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.View Spoiler »Mili takes care of Samir’s abusive grandfather for decades yet Samir never acknowledges how she was forced to serve a man he escaped. « Hide Spoiler
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.View Spoiler »Samir is estranged from his birth mother, an unmedicated manic depressive who kept Samir’s father by attempting suicide before leaving Samir in a life threatening situation as a child. The book gives her a curable cancer and good mood stabilizers so we’ll forgive her. I don’t. Mental illness is not a Get-Out-Of-Everything-Free card. Did she have limited options? Sure. She also got knocked up by a married man who wasn’t staying then used the baby as a weapon.
We meet an aunt who didn’t raise Samir since… who knows why? Without consulting him Mili tracks down Samir’s birth mother and contacts her. This shows Mili to be every bit Samir’s equal on the abusively-undermining-your-agency-for-your-own-good front and I stopped caring about her at all. None of the abuse Samir endures would have occurred without the repeated lack of judgement on the part of his birth mother. Mili needs to mind her own lane. « Hide Spoiler
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.
*This post first appeared at Love In The Margins.