my so-called bollywood life review

My So-Called Bollywood Life is a young adult novel written by Nisha Sharma. I was kindly sent a copy to review via Netgalley. All views are my own.

Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.

Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart, charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.

Like an expertly choreographed Bollywood dance scene, Nisha Sharma’s off-beat love story dazzles in the lime light.

Trigger warnings: ableist/sanist language, aromisia, fat-shaming

I read My So-Called Bollywood Life for the 2019 edition of the Asian Lit Bingo! It fulfilled the prompts for South Asian main character, contemporary with an Asian main character, and religious Asian main character.

This was a really cute read. At its core, this is a fluffy romance between Winnie, a Bollywood lover, and her classmate Dev. The entire story is framed by Bollywood, from the actors (one particular actor makes almost nightly appearances in Winnie’s dreams!) to tropes such as star-crossed lovers and love triangles. I admit, I don’t have much knowledge about Bollywood films. The most I’ve seen are short snippets from visiting my British-Indian fiancee’s grandmother. What I do know is that they are generally considered over-the-top, sometimes predictable, and a whole lot of fun. And that’s exactly what this novel is!

“As much as I love Bollywood damsels in distress, I don’t need saving. I’m my own hero.”

I really enjoyed the way that this novel explored themes of destiny and fate. Winnie tries very hard to ensure that she is the author of her own destiny, which was pretty cool. It was really interesting to learn about pandits and prophecies, as well as a bit about Winnie’s culture and religion. She is Hindu, and in the course of the novel she participates in a pooja (also spelled puja). According to the Internet, this is:

the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals. During puja an image or other symbol of the god serves as a means of gaining access to the divine. This icon is not the deity itself; rather, it is believed to be filled with the deity’s cosmic energy. It is a focal point for honoring and communicating with the god.

I’d never heard of these before, and it led me to some interesting research about Hinduism. There is also some use of Hindi in the novel, which was pretty cool.

However, there were a couple of things that really bothered me about this book. Firstly, it contained a lot of girl-hate. The antagonist of the novel was a girl called Jenny, who is over-the-top nasty and assumes that Winnie will want to compete over her ex-boyfriend Raj. I felt like she could have been a really interesting character, but she felt very one-dimensional in comparison to the other characters.

As well, it was very much implied that Winnie would have to choose between her romance with Dev and her career. Obviously she didn’t have to in the end, because it was a rom-com, but I really didn’t like it that many of the characters (including her own family) say that she needs to give up her role in her film club (which will help with her NYU application) for Dev. Like! No, girl!

Overall, this book was a fun romance, but there were some areas that I thought could have been improved, especially in terms of Winnie potentially sacrificing her future at NYU for a boy.

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