I confess, I haven’t watched a true Bollywood movie since my sister and I watched them around the time she spent a year in India – but I still have a soft spot for them, and was so happy to see this new book from Supriya Kelkar.
That Thing about Bollywood
by Supriya Kelkar
Simon & Schuster, 2021
Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
When she was in first grade and her parents first started fighting, Sonali did a big, glittery presentation on why parents fighting was bad for children for the whole extended family. Her parents scolded her for putting family issues on display, and it did nothing to stop the fighting. Since then, she’s refused to let anyone know her true feelings – not her parents, though their arguments have only gotten worse, and not her younger brother Ronak. Certainly not her best friend, even as Zara pushes her to join drama class, which Sonali dreads, and starts to become closer with another girl, leaving Sonali out. The one thing that bonds both Sonali’s family and friends together is their love of classic 80s and 90s Bollywood movies.
The morning after her parents announce that they’re separating, Sonali wakes to find that her life has become a Bollywood movie of its own. She hears a soundtrack all the time, with percussion when she’s upset and themes for important people in her life. When she feels a surge of strong emotion, walls and even objects change around her into bright and shiny Bollywood versions of themselves. Worst of all for a girl who hates showing her feelings, she starts breaking out into song and dance routines in the middle of school, with her classmates filling in as backup dancers. Her family and friends tell her this is the way things have always been, and tell her stories of her past self that involve her doing impromptu performances she can’t remember. But the more she tries to stop it, the worse it gets.
This had the potential to be an extremely didactic novel. It’s clear from the very beginning that Sonali needs to develop a healthier relationship with her emotions, and that not being able to express herself is hurting her relationships with both her family and friends. Happily, that predictability fits in perfectly with the Bollywood theme, which is so hilarious that the story worked well for me anyway. I found myself reading sections about Sonali’s reaction to walls painting themselves and her family’s subsequent bewilderment aloud to my daughter. We’re both now wondering if the audiobook version (read by Soneela Nankani, who also narrates the Aru Shah series) includes the soundtrack and songs, which would be so perfect. Either way, this is a great choice for readers looking for magic complicating and illuminating real-life problems.
Retake by Jen Calonita and Eleven Birthdays by Wendy Mass also have magic helping people figure out their problems with friends and family, though of course none of them include the fabulous dance routines here.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.