A Bollywood Affair jumped onto my radar when I was scouring the best of 2014 lists on Library Journal, doing some last minute ordering for my library. Once my library’s copy came in, I immediately checked it out. I’m a big romance reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across something quite like this. Personally, I thought it was a breath of fresh air in the romance genre and I can’t wait for more from this author.
A Bollywood Affair isn’t really an original story. If you read a lot of romance many of the tropes and characterizations will not feel unfamiliar. But what I think stands out in A Bollywood Affair is that the author has translated something so familiar and brought about a unique expression of a common story. Let’s face it, the romance genre is pretty white washed. It almost always features white, Western characters. And when a person of another culture does appear, race becomes an arc of the plot. This is not the case with A Bollywood Affair, both the hero and heroine are Indian; this fact simply exists. There’s no controversy about either character and their experiences when they are in the United States. Rather, the central conflict to the story is how each character comes to terms with what they have been taught in life and how their past continues to inform their present. It was absolutely well done.
Mili Rathod was married at age four. She hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years but remains loyal to him, even using him as an excuse to gain her traditional grandmother’s approval to continue her education. After all, her husband, an officer in the Indian Air Force, will surely want an intelligent and cultured wife. While Mili is loyal to her husband she longs for some freedom and sets out on an adventure of her own by pursuing an advanced degree at an American university.
Unbeknownst to Mili, her grandmother has been sending her husband, Virat Rathod, letters threatening legal action if he does not return to claim Mili. But Virat has no idea he is technically still married to Mili, thinking his grandfather had annulled the marriage long ago. Virat had gone on to marry a woman he loved and they are now expecting their first child. When Virat is injured in a plane crash, he knows that he has to get Mili to annul the marriage so it does not void his true marriage or cause his child to be born illegitimate. Virat’s younger brother, Samir Rathod, would do anything for his elder brother, and promises Virat that he will go to America and get Mili to sign the papers. Samir’s actually looking forward to the argument. He’s expecting a gold digging, callous woman. He does not expect the woman who flees at the sight of him, injuring herself in the process.
Unable to leave Mili to fend for herself after she’s released from the hospital, Samir takes care of her, telling her that he is her new neighbour in her apartment building. The more time that Samir spends with Mili the harder it is for him to believe that Mili is the hardhearted woman who would threaten a man while he was in a coma. Despite his growing knowledge of Mili and his own changing feelings for her, Samir continues to hide the truth. What could possibly go wrong?
Honestly, I can’t rave about A Bollywood Affair enough. It was truly a great, funny, heartwarming and charming romance. The characters could have been caricatures but the author has done such a good job at fleshing them out. For example, at the start Samir isn’t the most lovable hero. He’s a hotshot Bollywood writer and former model. Let’s just say he’s a little vain. Of course, there’s so much more going on behind the surface and it’s discovering what that is for both Samir and Mili that made this an exemplary romance. There was meat to both characters and this is exactly what I’m looking for in a romance, but it’s also something that I don’t think is as well executed as it ought to be in a genre that is predicated on relaitonships.
For me, I think Mili was the most interesting character. At first blush, Mili seemed impossibly naive. She claimed to be in love with her husband whom she has not seen since she was four years old. She doesn’t even remember the wedding. However, throughout A Bollywood Affair the author explores why this is the case for Mili. She’s really never had another option in life and being married has given her a measure of freedom that she would not have had otherwise. Mili was able to continue her education and even have a career. That said, Mili is not unaware of the restrictions that she still experiences. It’s that tension between modern and traditional values that I found most interesting in A Bollywood Affair. Mili struggles with reconciling her traditional upbringing with more modern ideals, especially the idea that she has value as an individual rather than as the other half of a married couple. I love the moment when Mili finally comes to realize that she has value as a person and that she is not the reason her husband has not come for her:
Suddenly she was angry. Truly angry. And terribly sad. She had wasted so much time feeling unworthy. She was smart and accomplished. She had always been. And for the first time in her life she also felt beautiful (p. 183).
Yes, part of Mili’s change in her attitude towards herself is her budding relationship with Samir, but it still rang as an authentic development to her character. For me, it was Mili that really changed throughout the course of the book, finally accepting herself for who she was. She continued to struggle with her guilt, but this just made her growth in the novel all the more believable. Great change doesn’t happen over night and Mili’s worldview doesn’t suddenly switch because of a few revelations. Quite simply, I think the author did a marvelous job at creating a character that was at odds with herself and showing how this young woman comes to terms with the changes that are rapidly happening in her life.
As separate characters both Mili and Samir were strong, fully developed characters. The romance between them was also just as well developed. This was a romance that developed over time. Mili and Samir become friends first. Because of Mili’s loyalty to her husband, she can’t allow Samir to be anything but a friend. Like Mili’s changing attitude about herself, her change in attitude towards Samir also slowly unfurls. Samir, on the other hand, feels immediate attraction for Mili but he never pushes her outside her comfort zone. He’s her friend when she needs him to be even when he’s kind of bowled over by how much he’d like to be much more than her friend. It was so refreshing to read a romance where an actual relationship develops. Readers are treated to their ups and downs and because of this, you really buy into the happily ever after.
I think A Bollywood Affair is a contemporary romance that is going to appeal to romance fans that are looking for a something a little different in the romance genre. While the story of an innocent young woman shacking up with a rakish fellow isn’t an original plot, the author fleshes this story out, creating something original and emotional. I highly recommend A Bollywood Affair to romance readers looking for a well-developed, character-driven story.
If you enjoyed the cultural tensions aspects of A Bollywood Affair, I think Courtney Milan’s Trade Me is a good choice. The heroine, Tina, is Chinese and she struggles with understanding her mother’s attitude in helping other Chinese refugees. While I didn’t find it as emotionally compelling as A Bollywood Affair, like Dev, I think Milan also writes great fleshed out characters. See my full review here.
I loved that A Bollywood Affair focuses on the development of a relationship rather than the build up to the start of one. Another author that I think writes really strong relationships is historical romance author, Mary Balogh. Many of Balogh’s romances focuses on the slow development of a real relationship between characters, it’s more than physical chemistry and Balogh always excels at conveying that deeper relationships. Start out with my favourite, The Arrangement.