I had always imagined that someday I would write about things other than my area of expertise, Carnatic music. What I did not expect is that it would be at this juncture in my life or about a TV show and the actors in it. The catalyst for this blog piece was my Facebook posta few weeks ago. A lot of my friends privately messaged me asking for more details, while a few others good-humoredly expressed their jealousy! I thought that it might actually be fun to write about the whole thing, especially because it is such a departure from what I normally do, so here goes...
On Saturday, June 10, I was in Austin to attend a fun event withGayatri, a student and friend of mine. We flew in from different cities, and it was almost 5.30pm by the time we checked into our hotel room. A short while later, freshened up and enthusiastic, we decided to explore the city's downtown area as it had the promise of many interesting dining options. Austin indeed carried a good blend of the old and new, and the perfect touch of cheer to enliven our evening. Gayatri and I drove around in a leisurely manner, scouting for anything that looked inviting to us. We soon found parking by a hip-looking spa with restaurants peppered all around it. On a lark, we even checked out the spa and got ourselves an appointment for two hours later. As we headed out, Gayatri went to find safer parking, while I walked up to the restaurant at the end of the block to check out their menu. Vegetarian options seemed non-existent, so I crossed over to the restaurant on the opposite side. Going by the number of people waiting outside, it seemed to be a popular place. The Mexican menu looked hopeful, and I went in to inquire what the wait time would be for two. To my surprise, the host said he could accommodate us right away and I went out to call and let Gayatri know where I was.
As I waited at the corner of the block to be visible to her, I casually looked around me. To my right, in the patio of the restaurant where we were to eat, I saw someone who looked like Gabriel Macht, the star of the TV show, Suits. I was pretty sure my eyes were playing tricks on me, especially because I had been watching the show for a few weeks by then, and (this is hard for me to admit) obsessing about the character he plays in it. Gayatri joined me shortly afterwards and I told her to take a look and tell me if the guy seated there did not bear a strong resemblance to Gabriel and she replied, “OMG, it is him!"
Seated along with Gabriel were his co-stars, Patrick Adams and Sarah Rafferty, the creator of the show, Aaron Korsh, director, Gene Klein and producer, Dave Bartis. Gayatri and I did not have to debate on whether we should go up to them and say hello. To their credit, the Suits team's first reaction at being randomly interrupted by a couple of strangers was nothing less than gracious. Aaron in particular, thanked us very sweetly for being fans of the show, and said how grateful they were. As a musician from quite a well-known family, I have had a fair amount of interactions with celebrities from different walks of life, and I can tell you that gratitude is a word one does not often hear. Coming as it did spontaneously, it left a positive impression. I then asked if we could get a few pictures with them. Their food had just arrived, so Patrick asked if we were going to dine there, and on my confirming the same, suggested that we do it post-dinner.
Other people in the restaurant recognized the Suits team seated just about 8-10 feet from us, and were quietly excited, but to our surprise, nobody went up to them and disturbed them. I don’t know how often stars in any land have the luxury of being left alone to enjoy a meal with their friends, but I thought it was rather nice that this team did. The seating on the patio was close enough that we could be heard by the people at our neighboring tables and vice versa. People all around seemed to be in a happy mood and on hearing my negative response to Gayatri asking me for a paper to get autographs, the lady at the table beside us thoughtfully dug out some cards for us to use.
Our dinner was a minimal affair - we were firstly not very hungry, the menu did not have our usual Mexican vegetarian options, and the restaurant was better known for drinks. We ordered a couple of items and enjoyed the balmy evening as it unfolded. A little while later, as we wound up and asked to pay our bill, our waitress returned with the message that the Suits team had already taken care of it! We weren't sure we heard her right, and had to double check. This was a totally sweet and unexpected surprise, and we were honestly overwhelmed.
After what felt like an appropriate amount of time, we went up to their table to express our thanks for their lovely gesture and meet them properly. Gabriel joked that it was he who had paid for the dinner before giving due credit to Aaron and the entire team! Picture time thereafter was great fun with expert photographer Patrick and Gabriel alternately wielding my phone. After this, we spent a good 10 minutes or more, casually chatting with them. They accepted our compliments graciously, again an art that many artists are not necessarily good at. Another uncharacteristic thing I did that day was get autographs, notwithstanding the fact that the cards we had had the cheesy words, "I love you because...!"
Individually and collectively, they were wonderful people. There was warmth, joviality and camaraderie, all of which probably contribute towards making Suits what it is, but also made us feel as though we’d known them for a long time. Sarah seemed very jolly and centered, while Patrick was as approachable and funny as the character Mike Ross he plays in Suits. Gabriel managed to be perfectly friendly and jovial, and yet a tad reserved, which is understandable given his image as Harvey Specter, the awe-inspiring hotshot character he plays in Suits. On hindsight, Gayatri and I regretted that we did not chat more with Gene Klein or Dave Bartis, but we were torn between not taking up too much of their time and trying to make conversation with everyone all at once!
I have a great deal of admiration for Aaron for conceiving Suits and creating the brilliant characters in it. It was great to have been able to sit and chat with him for a few minutes. In the process, I found out that he has deep connections to Philly, having grownup near here. I hope to meet him again someday in this area.
Now, why do I like Suits so much? For me, it is the combination of intelligence, humor, fast pace, high energy, character building, excellent acting all around, and the good story lines by and large. Some people find Harvey and Mike a bit aspirational, but guess what? I can actually relate to both of them perfectly, because I am married to a brilliant guy who has the memory and quick grasp of Mike, that too spread across multiple disciplines (he has a legit PhD from Caltech though!). He shares many personality traits of Harvey as well - a golden heart, generosity of spirit, preserving his soul against all odds, keeping things close to his chest (including compliments!) and the quick temper. I joke that I am the Donna in his life! My brother-in-law is a hotshot corporate lawyer in Bombay who ascended the ranks very quickly at a young age like Harvey, and is highly respected for his integrity and competence. And just like Harvey, I think he has his head and heart in the right place.
Here are some of the high points of this show as I see it:
Harvey is perhaps one of the best-written male characters of all time. Personally for me, he has replaced Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice whose character is left more to one's imagination than written about on paper. Mr. Darcy's romantic trials seem much more benign compared to Harvey's daily moral dilemmas in a corrupting environment! I like how his character steadily unfolds over time to reveal a better and better man. Quite a few of my friends feel as I do that his flaws are as lovable as his loyalty, spirit, ambition and other good qualities. It is the role of a lifetime, and it somehow makes me very happy that Gabriel not only landed it but has also nailed it with impressive style and infectious confidence.
The complexity of the main male characters Harvey, Mike and Louis is especially remarkable in a show where there is an equal number of lead female characters. Somehow they have been projected to bring out the many human paradoxes and nuances, much more than the women in it. For example, to my Indian mind, Harvey seems to represent two diverse ideals in equal measure, alternating between the means to an end and the end itself.
Aaron must also be commended for creating a strong array of female characters in Jessica, Donna and Rachel. Instead of mere tokenism for women's rights and equality through overstated situations/lines/behavior or weak, cliched jokes, he has empowered the Suits women in the most natural way. They not only bring to the table some extraordinary qualities like strength of character, enterprise, endurance, empathy, love, confidence, style, class, poise and intuition, but also rub shoulders with the men on equal terms at every point. I think this is the biggest success towards preserving feminism. Jessica, as the managing partner, totally rocks in every way. Donna reads the enigmatic Harvey as perfectly as a woman typically does the men in her life. She is also the constant voice of reason in the show. Rachel stands up for herself in many different ways to the strong men in her life, including her father.
Suits also quietly highlights racial diversity, women in power, the underdogs of life, the ironic dichotomy between real merit and degrees, and many other little things that one can notice as one watches the show.
I refrain from mentioning some of the other obvious things such the Harvey-Mike bromance and banter, the Harvey-Donna dynamic and so on because they have already been written about many times. Which brings me to my conclusion. I am quite amazed that many people in my circle have watched the show because I suggested it! I believe that Suits comprises an incredible bunch of gifted people and deserves every recognition it gets. Each person on its team also has a unique story of success backed by skill, experience, patience and persistence. If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, I would say that Suits has turned into a show about many things. I do hope to meet all these people once again and get to know them better!