A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

April 22, 2015 Contemporary, Reviews 5

Henna decorated hands are cupped to hold a pile of white bangles.Man. I’m going to be kicking a puppy here. Listen, I didn’t hate A Bollywood Affair, but I certainly didn’t love it. Sonali Dev’s written an interesting category romance with some deeply WTF moments. I just couldn’t with this book. Maybe I lack the context to fully appreciate it’s draw. Bottom line is that Mili deserved better than being a prop in Samir’s redemption arc. Samir is an ass. A Bollywood Affair praises him for hitting some decent humanity marks while offering a free pass for all of his sins. Hated. Him. I had so many WTF moments in this book that I stopped listing them. Let me back up.

Mili is the faithful granddaughter of a character we never meet, because she’s part of Mili’s family and therefore completely unimportant. This woman raises Mili to be honest, hardworking, loyal and responsible. Her word is her bond and when she tries to force others to uphold theirs she is effectively punished. We never learn why she agreed to Mili participating in a marriage ceremony at the age of four (although she likely did so herself, as well) because she is treated as an annoyance. Mili loves her enough to skip meals and sacrifice precious free time to support her, but not enough to defend her. So there’s Mili, hardworking, poor and abandoned by her child spouse.

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Samir is the spoiled Bollywood professional who treats affection like a burden. We meet him being super-extra aggrieved a woman he bangs on the regular has fallen in love with him. We’re supposed to forgive his predatory ways because when said girlfriend is injured he doesn’t leave her to die. Golf. Clap. Samir has an over the top abuse history that reads like reverse fetishization. The light skin that makes him a star made his grandfather hate him. Samir is the classic Romance Abuse Figure and I am not here for it at all. Samir is wealthy, loved by his family, adored by thousands and mentally trapped in the past. Samir doesn’t need Mili, he needs a tall glass of get over yourself. Here’s a look at our charming Samir.

If the village girl gave him any trouble she better be ready to have her life turned upside down. He was in no mood to suffer gold-digging opportunists. Hunger for vengeance against every injustice that had ever made him helpless raced through his veins. Maybe he wouldn’t let the sneaky bitch off that easy.

– A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

Hey Samir? GFY. Seriously man, you’re an abusive tool. This guy knows exactly one thing. His brother’s child bride has made a claim on their estate. As far as the family knows, the marriage was dissolved long ago. When Samir discovers he’s wrong and it wasn’t, his instinct isn’t to blame the abusive grandfather he knows is responsible, it’s to blame his fellow victim. Samir sees her as beneath him. He relishes the thought of hurting her, as he perceives her continuing existence has hurt his brother. Facts don’t matter when you’ve got a rage boner.

After discovering that Mili is living in poverty Samir switches into Basic Decent Human mode, with a sidecar of Manipulative Controlling Bastard. Samir is fundamentally allergic to honesty. He pays off people, he kidnaps people, he does things for people’s “own good” but he never gives people full disclosure with an opportunity to consent. He pursues Mili when he knows she thinks she’s married. Alphahole doesn’t begin to describe it. The reader is supposed to forgive Samir because he’s tortured by his abusive past (NOPE) and takes care of Mili when she’s injured (See Basic Humanity 101).

Samir is motivated by a desire to protect his family, therefore his actions are good Mili’s grandmother is motivated by a desire to protect her family, therefore her motives are… pick a side, book. A Bollywood Affair gives us a lovely moment with a Punjabi wedding. It’s all drama and aunties and dancing and lovely character interactions before it ends in Mili’s tears. We quickly swing into my most despised trope ever, proving Mili has consent issues of her own.

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Late in the book when True Love (ok, sure) has prevailed Mili is taken aside by Samir’s adoptive mother and counseled on what a precious, precious jewel Samir is. I guess the reader is supposed to forget everything about the Samir we first met, the fuck-em-and-break-em guy from the front of the book as his mom explains how desperately Samir clings to the tiniest offerings of love in others, staying loyally by their side for the crumbs of affection he can glean. Well, she’s not the first parent to totally misjudge her kid.

Final Assessment: Great writing can’t save toxic characters in this bride-swap tale of a married child. C- 

Source: Purchased Copy


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Meoskop's first non-compulsory book review was in 1973. Although a hit with the 3rd grade, concerns raised by the administration necessitated an extended hiatus. Reviews resumed in 1985 but the concerns are ongoing.

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5 Responses to “A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev”

  1. Phyl

    I don’t disagree with any of this, including your grade. There were some funny moments and I liked the writing. But I almost quit halfway through because I hated how long Samir continued to hide the truth of who he was from Mili. Then your spoiler… yeah, that was just wrong. I’ll read this author again, but I’m not at all a fan of this book.

  2. lawless

    I bought this book when it was on sale (I did read the prologue as a sample and enjoyed it) and will still read it, but this makes me think the book was as popular as it was with non-Desi readers precisely because it had familiar WTF (to me, anyway) relationship dynamics from traditional (read: mainstream white) romance.

    On the other hand, while I don’t know if they underwent a childhood marriage ceremony (somehow, I don’t think so), the Indian couple (she was from Mumbai, he was from Gujarat) that used to live next door had an arranged marriage that was better than my non-arranged marriage. Bonus was that we were usually invited to their dinner parties. Indian food FTW!

  3. Danielle

    For once I bought into the hype and really hoped to experience the great things so many romance readers have said about A Bollywood Affair. What I didn’t expect was a Harlequin Presents in long format. But it explains the reprehensible hero. The author built up such a serious conflict and it desperately needed a careful, sensitive resolution. Instead, we get farce and “everything is fine because – oh, look – he missed me!”

    The serious subplot with Samir’s birth mother was far too ambitious to fit the story the way it was (mis)handled. To me it read like literary pretension that had nowhere to go.

    I gave the book a C-, too. Only the prose saved it from a D. Thanks for your review; it helps me make peace with my bewilderment about the party-like reception of this romance.

  4. Meoskop

    I deliberately shied away from why I think the reception of this book exceeded what one would expect. Addressing it in conjunction with a negative review felt like piling on Dev, who I am happy to see succeed. Smart marketing played a huge part. The bigger box I’ll let someone else unpack, someday.

  5. Danielle

    The bigger context certainly makes it easy to understand where much of the excitement was coming from, and to sympathize with various quarters. It would place unfair pressure on any book to be made a symbol when all it ever tried to be is a book among others, but a symbol it was made by the larger romance community (no fault of the author). Consequently, “the emperor’s new clothes”-phenomenon. I agree, lots to unpack.