A sobbing 4-year-old bride. A disinterested 12-year-old groom. Married in a rural Indian village 20 years ago at the behest of a tyrannical grandfather, this couple doesn’t seem destined for a happily ever after. That is, unless you ask Mili Rathod, the irrepressible heroine of Sonali Dev’s charming debut novel, A Bollywood Affair.
Raised by her grandmother after her parents’ death, Mili grows up believing that her husband, Virat, who’s gone on to become an air force pilot, will come back for her one day. In the meantime, she’s determined to become the perfect wife, even if it means stretching the truth a little bit for her naani, who doesn’t quite understand the point of a university education for a young married woman. When Mili has a chance to attend a women’s studies program in the U.S., she takes it, determined to better the lives of Indian women even as she fantasizes about the delicious meals she’ll make for Virat one day.
Mili is a delightful contradiction, even to herself. Raised with the most traditional values, she nonetheless helps her American-born Indian roommate, Ridhi, elope with the man she loves, despite the bride’s family’s disapproval. Love trumps everything in Mili’s mind, even tradition. Dev writes, “If Ridhi was lucky enough to be loved back, Mili would do everything in her power to make sure it didn’t slip through Ridhi’s fingers.” Mili ardently believes in true love, and nothing hurts more than the suspicion that Virat does not love her the way she has come to love him, even from afar.
Mili and Samir are richly drawn, and Indian culture in its many shapes, sizes and colors provides gorgeous detail.
However, Virat has no intention of finding Mili—as far as he knows, the wedding wasn’t legal; his mother filed papers annulling it shortly after the ceremony, and quickly spirited him and his brother, Samir, away from their controlling grandfather. What’s more, Virat is married to the woman of his dreams, and she is carrying his child. When a letter from Mili arrives, explaining her whereabouts and asking when she can expect her husband to come for her, Virat is shocked—but his brother Samir is suspicious. Samir is a successful Bollywood writer and director with movie-star looks that women melt for, and he’s sure he knows a gold-digger when he sees one. He’s determined to track Mili down himself and persuade her to sign the divorce papers.
The frothy fun of Bollywood films kicks in when Mili and Samir meet. Half-truths and misunderstandings build alongside a unique friendship that makes each of them question what they want from life—and from love. Samir is a Mumbai ladies’ man who has rarely been refused, while Mili’s rural upbringing lives on in her dreams and everyday habits. They come from completely different worlds within India, but as they get to know each other, they discover that they have much more in common than they expected—even if that complicates matters a whole lot more than Samir intended.
Dev, who has written about art, architecture and movies for Indian publications, along with scripts for Indian movies and television, skillfully contrasts the pros and cons of traditional cultural roles and expectations, as well as the bonds of blood and chosen family. Mili and Samir are richly drawn, and Indian culture in its many shapes, sizes and colors provides gorgeous detail. A Bollywood Affair is a fun, funny and surprisingly touching first novel. Dev delivers a love story that could have come straight from Indian cinema, and it's one that readers everywhere will adore.
Amy Garvey is a freelance editor and the author of several romances and two novels for young adults.