October 05, 2011

Bollywood Nights by Shobha De

What a joyless book. Prepared for the glamour of Bollywood, instead, this novel shows you its trash.

Aasha Rani is a Bollywood heroine. Brought to the film world by her mother, she quickly discovers that to survive in Bollywood you must trade your body, if not your soul. While she does well as an actress and appears in many films it is not a very happy life.

The man she loves is married and while she is his mistress she can have no more than that. Others she sleeps with offer the same lack of emotional ties and give her nothing more than a fleeting memory of feeling good. Or they give her something she needs to advance her carrier or make her Amma (mother) happy. Her life is not really her own.

Finally breaking down when her lover Akshay no longer wants her and shuns her, she escapes to New Zealand. There she meets her husband and has a beautiful daughter, Sasha, before that life goes wrong as well. She drifts aimlessly to London, back to India, never really having true happiness or not being on the wrong side of the bed with most men.

I expected a great deal more from this book, but it seems the author is just bitter towards the whole idea of Bollywood. While it was mostly well written (I had some issues with grammar and having speaking from multiple characters in one paragraph) there was nothing of hope in this novel. De invites plenty of innovation to her writing, mixing Indian dialect slang with English, but fails to make her characters people you care about.

Indeed, I couldn't stand the main character at first, and just when she was getting marginally better, the book took a turn back to being horrible again. I understand that there is plenty of scandal in Bollywood, but with my preconceived notions of Indian women and the fact that I just wanted some happiness in the novel, this book was a huge let down. And its attitude towards men is very bitter. There was not one "good" man in the whole book. In fact, most of them screw over the main character at least once if not many times.

Overall not something I would read again. In fact, based on this novel, I will probably steer clear of the rest of De's novels.

Bollywood Nights
Copyright 1992
332 pages and Q&A Section

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