Trust Me marries one of India’s greatest national obsessions, Bollywood cinema (the other of course is cricket), with the tested chick-lit formula. It’s a marketer’s dream, whispers my long-dormant inner MBA; my inner reviewer is busy gagging, recalling that other sure-fire winner, Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination.
Interestingly enough, Trust Me’s author Rajashree is identified solely by her first name. The only other mononymous (thank you, Ms. Internet) female author I can think of is Colette.
Let’s get it out of the way–Rajashree is no Colette. The subject is indeed the same– the exploration of female sexuality in a masculine world–but Rajashree uses a trident where Colette wields a tuning fork. Trust Me‘s plot is perfunctory at best. A small-town girl Parvati moves to the big city, has a disastrous romance and consequently swears off men. She leaves her advertising career to assist on the sets of a Bollywood film. Enter the tall, fair, and handsome hero Rahul, who just might be the One. Can they work it out?
Since this book has a hot red cover with a grown-up Powerpuff Girl gazing saucily over her shoulder, the answer is glaringly clear. And yet, there is much to like about this tale of love and longing in Bollywood. The innocent-meets-rake formula, so loved by romance writers, fills me with fear and loathing (see my earlier post on Mills and Boon romances for more this subject). I am so grateful that the “biggest-selling Indian chick lit novel” does not fetishize the heroine’s purity. Parvati is no virgin; in fact, we find out in the first chapter that she has recently had an abortion. The romance genre usually demands that the heroines tend to be younger, shorter, poorer, dumber and less sexually experienced than the alpha-male; thank you, Rajashree, for confounding almost every element of this miserable equation. Protesting against his character having to strut shirtless, fully aware of his precarious toe-hold in the industry, concerned about his looks, and all of twenty years old, Rahul, rather than Parvati, is clearly the babe in the (Bolly)wood.
Rajashree is a film-maker based in Mumbai, and Trust Me incorporates several cinematic devices, including wonderful sound effects (two characters run into each other with a “dhapak”), carefully visualized settings, and much much more. All of which work very well indeed with the story. More importantly, Rajashree brings an insider’s look at Bollywood. While India’s film industry offers all-too-obvious fodder for satire, Rajashree manages to caricature the process without ridiculing those who find meaning in it. A tricky balance indeed, and one that she strikes with just the right note of bemused detachment. I’m inclined to laugh along with the author when she describes how a particularly goofy dance sequence featuring a buffalo and a mostly-naked heroine successfully tips the distribution rights to the film. We trust Rajashree to poke fun of the film industry without making us feel mean-spirited.
The chick-lit aspects of this book, however, constitute its weakest link . It’s like Rajashree switched the jet fuel for Enfamil when she moves the story away from the Bollywood sets. There is no real exploration of the complexities of the relationship or the sexual tension between Parvati and Rahul. The characters never move beyond whether the heroine should trust the hero or not–that’s the the issue at the first meeting, and at their final blow-up. The romance is consequently flatter than a dosa.
My other grouse is with the scenes featuring Parvati and her friends. The heroine’s friends are a pillar of the chick-lit genre, serving to demonstrate that the protagonist has a life beyond her feelings for the hero. Parvati’s interactions with her friends remind me of those high-school days when we’d earnestly analyze one another based on Cheiro’s handy palmistry reckoner. Parvati’s girlfriends exist solely to explain her romantic choices to the reader; there isn’t a single original aspect to their personalities or existence. I wish the leopard reputedly roaming around Film City had swallowed these characters the instant of their creation.
In sum, Trust Me is not frothy enough to work as a chick-lit novel nor deep enough to succeed as a literary work, and thus ends up falling between the two stools. But now that she’s got the first book out of the way, Rajashree will hopefully hunker down to really write, and I’ll be first in the line for that novel.