Tanya Maniktala

Tanya Maniktala who can be seen on screen as Lata Mehra in Mira Nair’s adaptation of Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” started off her career in dramatics as the lead in her college’s annual street production, “Kaal Kothri,” for which she won several Best Actor Awards on her University’s Theater Circuit. After gaining recognition for her role, she was then scouted by a YouTube channel named “The Timeliners” to play the female lead in their web series “Flames.” She was also nominated in the Best Debut category by the Digital Hash Streaming Awards, where “Flames” won the Best Web Series Award. After being a huge hit on the web platform, the channel has now also come out with its second season for the web show.

Tara Karajica talks to Tanya Maniktala about “A Suitable Boy,” that closed this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, playing Lata in the series and working with Mira Nair, as well as being chosen as a TIFF Rising Star this year among other topics.



A Suitable Boy is only your second role. How did you get involved in the series?

Tanya Maniktala: After the second season of Flames, the web series I had been a part of, I started working as a copywriter and it just so happened that one of my friends from my University’s theater circuit showed my pictures to his seniors who were doing the round of auditions for A Suitable Boy in Delhi. His senior and Dilip Shankar Sir, the casting director, liked my pictures and wanted me to come in person and do the test. It had been a while after my reading with Dilip Sir and I hadn’t heard back from them about anything, but then, one day, I got a call from him asking me if we could schedule a Skype call as Mira Nair wanted to talk to me. A few weeks after a very interactive and engaging Skype call, Mira came to Delhi and I did a few more rounds of reading with her and then, just out of the blue, she called me to tell me that I had been selected for the part and that’s how I got on board.

How was the experience of working with Mira Nair?

T.M.: To say that Mira Nair is a legendary filmmaker would be an understatement because there’s so much more to her personality than just that. She is such a powerful woman and such an incredible person! Her energy is truly unmatched and the passion that she shares for her work and her stories is inspiring to say the least. She is so clear in her vision and so vocal about it and that, I feel, makes the job of an actor so much easier, when you can just trust the directing force and give yourself to the art.

Lata is adventurous, fighting for her independence amid family pressures to marry a man who is suitable to her mother and is, at the same time, torn between her family and her love. How do you see her? Is there a bit of you in her?

T.M.: I feel like Lata has been created with such intricacies and such delicateness that you just can’t gauge the depth of this dynamic young lady and any attempt at doing so would just leave you surprised as to how much more there is to her! For me, she embodies courage and strength and, at the same time, such femininity and grace and her old world charm. She is just completely, wholly her own self and so comfortable in her own skin and her mind and her thoughts are all so fascinating. She breaks all the stereotypes of a girl in the 1950s, that she has to act in a certain way to fit in or to do whatever was expected of her. Rather, you see a passion burning in her to be able to form her own whilst being equally respectful to her family and their suggestions. I see a lot of myself in Lata in the sense of wanting to be your own individual and being seen for you and not just somebody else’s shadow, yet Lata, I would say, definitely bears a lot more courage and charm! Her love for the written word definitely bears a resemblance, though.

Can you talk about all those different women in the series? How are Lata, Saeeda and Meenakshi modern and progressive women for that time?

T.M.: All of them are so different from each other yet you see how brave and unafraid they are all in their own sense. Saeeda Bai inhabits a whole different world altogether. She is, to put it very simply, the queen of her own kingdom and you see her fighting her own battles as well and fiercely protecting her people. Her world, as a courtesan, is very different from the ordinary lives that you see in the show and a rather difficult one. There is definitely the beautification of it all with her elegant costumes and music yet underneath it all you see a woman who has been fighting for her survival all these years and now sits on the throne hardened by the world around her. With Meenakshi, you see a not so “typical” housewife. She speaks her mind and couldn’t care less about society. She makes sure that she gets her way. Well-read, smart and absolutely stunning – you see all the aspects of a modern woman in her. Lata, on the other hand, who is just coming of age also bears the marks of a modern woman. Her inclination towards becoming her own individual and having her opinions and speaking her mind definitely set her apart. She values the mind much more than anything else and her focus on having a career and making a future for herself without wanting the comfort and security of a fallback are all markers of how much she values the self before anything. She refuses to conform to other people’s ideologies be it her professor or her own mother, but would rather set out on her own journey, make her own mistakes and learn her own lessons. She isn’t afraid of failure and speaks her truth. Her authentic self and her heart definitely make her very appealing.

Can you talk about Lata’s relationship with her mother and how it evolves throughout the six episodes?

T.M.: Lata and Mrs. Rupa Mehra share a love-hate relationship like any mother and daughter, where they push each other to the edge yet are always there for each other. I feel like it is also because of how much alike they are. Mrs. Rupa Mehra raised four kids on her own after the passing of her husband and you definitely see a lot of character to her as a woman. She is fierce and gentle at the same time and I see a lot of that in Lata – a strong sense of independence. Throughout the six episodes, you see how the mother and daughter share such a strong bond that you understand that it’s not the words that they are saying to each other, but the intention behind those words that they both read. They are playful and share each other’s highs and lows and, honestly, it’s just so beautiful to see their relationship being played out. It’s almost like a game of tug and war, where they are constantly at each other yet each other’s biggest sense of support and comfort. A lot of it remains unsaid, but that’s the beauty of it.

Marriage was extremely important in 1950s India. How is it now? Is arranged marriage still very common today?

T.M.: I feel like it’s still held in high regard in the society and is definitely still big, yet it’s not the same as it was in the 1959s, in that it is does not define you as a person. Back in the 1950s, it definitely was something to check off your list, but now it’s more about finding your right fit and taking your time with it. It could be a slow process, but that’s okay. As for arranged marriages, they are still definitely very prominent, especially in India.

A Suitable Boy is long overdue in terms of being an all-Indian cast in a British TV series about the topic of the Partition. What are your memories of growing up listening to stories about it?

T.M.: Oh yes, definitely! But it’s also kind of sad that it’s seen as such a big deal when that’s the only way I see it. I mean, it is a story about India and its people and having an all-Indian cast is the only way that you can do justice to it and remain authentic. I heard a lot about the Partition from my grandfather while growing up and about his life pre-Partition, so it’s definitely something that I hold close to my heart and that was the intention behind wanting to be as authentic in the portrayal of the story as can be.

Are you a feminist?

T.M.: Ha ha! Only if you define feminist as a person who believes in equality of all genders, then yes, I am.

You are one of this year’s TIFF Rising Stars. How does it feel? What impact do you think it will have on the future of your career?

T.M.: It honestly feels so surreal that all of this is happening when I couldn’t have imagined even the tiniest bit of it, but I am so honored and so grateful for this recognition. I really appreciate that TIFF saw this potential in me and definitely my director, Mira Nair. This is all credits to the amazing team I had the great fortune of working with. People who believed in me and brought out the best in me, so this is definitely all thanks to them! I don’t know about the future, but I definitely hope for the best and the potential for bigger and better things!

There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past almost three years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in India?

T.M.: I feel like it’s high time that females in the industry are given their due credit and given the recognition they deserve. Again, it feels like the need of the hour is to normalize things and see these creatives much like their counterparts without the defining attribute that they are females. That’s how I think we get to value the art that they create more than the individual.

Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and one you would love to work with? And, a favorite film by a female filmmaker?

T.M.: I am definitely a huge fan of Greta Gerwig’s work. I feel like she’s an exceptional storyteller with her attention to the smallest details and transforming the ordinary into something much more, and for that reason I love her film Lady Bird.

Are you planning on pursuing acting as a career now? Do you have anything in the pipeline now?

T.M.: Yes, I do and am definitely looking forward to learning more about this craft and doing some really unusual things. Who knows what might be coming up next, but I am definitely reading a lot of material at the moment.




Photo credit: TIFF.

This interview was conducted at the 2020 (virtual) Toronto International Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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