Trapped in filmy illusions

She has a fascination for all things Indian — from salwar kameez and anklets to bindis and Bollywood. She marvels at the virtues of an Indian woman and aspires to be like her — a good beti, a loving behen and a coy mangehtar. She speaks Hindi better than any desis in America.

To merely call her an aficionado of Bollywood would be an understatement. For, she eats, breathes and lives Bollywood. A big Shahrukh Khan fan who has seen Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) 18 times, she knows our very own Devdas right from Bimal Roy days. Well! That’s Meredith McGuire’s Meg (sorry, Meghana) for you, who is more Indian that American.

In fact, Meg, the protagonist of the aptly titled Bollywood Becomes Her, almost seems like the mirror image of Meredith herself, who is a true blue Bollywood fan. Through Meg, the author presents the interesting tale of an American, blonde Bollywood fan who loves the deewanapan of Indians and nurses the secret desire to represent all things Indian. So we have Meg renaming herself Meghana and wearing salwars and sarees, complete with bangles, anklets, braid and bindi. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Columbia University, she aspires to be a writer and pens The Maharajah’s Kiss.

Unfortunately, it only invites rejection notes, forcing her to move in with her parents who fail to decipher her love for everything Indian. At home, all that she does is watch Hindi movie DVDs endlessly and dream of a life a la Bollywood ishtyle. In her zeal to be an adarsh beti, she even helps her mother clear the dishes after dinner and gives her a foot massage. For, that’s what ‘good’ daughters in Indian families do (as in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) and Doli Sajake Rakhna, ain’t it?)
Just as she is grappling with her enthusiasm to be a cultured Indian enters Raj, her Hindi professor, who reminds her of Akshay Kumar, straight out of Dhadkan. Out to charm him with her Indian ways, she attempts to be a composite model based on Aditi of Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na and Geet of Jab We Met.

In her eagerness to be a virtuous Indian girl, she even shuns alcohol and ducks away the goodnight kiss Raj wanted to give her. But, to her horror of horrors, she discovers Raj to be a fan of Jackie Chan (and not Jackie Shroff) and Justine Timberlake (and not Pakeezah or Guide) and that he ate beef! To add to her woes, he takes the liberty of lifting generously from her Bollywood for Beginners, the work he inspired her to write, for an intellectual talk he delivered at a seminar.

Even as Meg feels disillusioned by Raj’s behaviour, and even as she struggles to find her identity in sarees and salwars comes Dev, a friendly six-foot-three Kashmiri with blue eyes and dreadlocks. He hates desis, loves gooey balls (gulab jamoons), struggles to master Hindi and insists on calling Meg Kinkyji. Though irritated to the core in their initial encounters, Meg soon realises his plus points — he doesn’t eat beef and drinks SRK-endorsed Pepsi!

Thus proceeds Bollywood Becomes Her with its generous share of masala moments we have all been so accustomed to, thanks to Karan Johar and his colleagues. Though the book is an American interpretation of Indian customs and traditions as presented in Bollywood, the book makes an interesting read. For a change, we have a Westerner writing about Bollywood while Indians themselves pooh pooh it as melodramatic fare.

The book, with its lucid narrative and a straightforward plot, is quite entertaining, almost like a good masala Bollywood flick. McGuire’s characterisation also deserves a special mention as each one of them seems real, very true to their beliefs and practices.

While Meg’s mom, a typical American, wants her girls to find their feet and move out (unlike moms in Hindi movies), her sister Sarah, a tele-sex operator, considers Meg a ‘freak’ for being more Indian than American. And, of course, Raj and Dev who consider themselves Indian just by chance.
Hats off to McGuire for internalising every bit of Bollywood. The book sure reads as a tribute to Bollywood and we are not complaining.

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