In the first book of her Born into Bollywood series, Claiming his Bollywood Cinderella, Tara Pammi has created a thoroughly entertaining story of the one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world.
Naina Menon is a personal secretary to the great Vikram Raawal’s grandmother. She is conscious of the honor of her position, and she genuinely enjoys working for the feisty old lady living in a centuries-old mansion steeped in Raawal history. In her personal life, Naina feels a great sense of responsibility towards her flighty stepmother and bright but irresponsible stepsister. She is the only sensible one who is working to hold the family together and keep them financially afloat while the other two pursue their dreams. Giving up her own half-finished PhD in the history of film and getting a high paying but not intellectually stimulating job are her only options. By not allowing Naina to wallow in self-pity, Pammi has created a character who is mature and moving forward in life. And yet…she is lonely.
Hot looks and hot moves combined with sharp business acumen and old and new money make Vikram Raawal a Bollywood legend and a force to be reckoned with. But along the way, success has become a shield and a wall that keeps everyone at arms’ length. Everyone wants a piece of him without valuing the man behind the success. His childhood was one of chaos at the mercy of his immature and temperamental parents. Their very excesses have led him to value a life of strict control, and he not only brings up his brother and sister under that principle but also runs his business and private life in that fashion. And…he is lonely.
Vikram and Naina meet at a masked ball and have delicious conversation and make hot love in an atmospherically-lit library. It is only with his Dream Girl that he feels seen for the first time, and he takes a risk that she won’t run off to the media the next day to sell her story of this encounter. The deep connection he feels between them, her refreshing honesty and sincerity, and her refusal to pander to his ego, allow his mind to give his body permission to let go of his legendary control for one night. With the memory of the infatuation of her girlhood fresh in her mind, tempered — and excited and endeared — by the reality of the man, Naina decides that she wants all that Vikram is willing to give her. While she is entranced that this movie star is willing to give her ordinary self unfettered access to his body, it is the ordinary humanity of the man that is what emboldens her to take what he is offering.
Many romance novels write how a particular scent the woman wears will remind the man of her forever. Whereas Pammi writes that Naina’s scent will remind Vikram of “honesty and irreverence and passion and laughter.” Scent memory is so powerful that it doesn’t merely remind you of a person, but rather, it resurrects an entire scene in your head with all emotions and senses engaged. It is in writing such as this, that Pammi shows herself to be a cut above the usual writers. And you see this style of writing — digging deeper under the surface of emotions — all throughout this book. It makes for a much more satisfying book, a longer book, if you will, than the category format allows for.
This is a modern May-December romance, and it took courage on Pammi’s part to tell a contemporary romance between a young poor ingénue and a much older, much more experienced, much wealthier man without the story being one of overprotecting and rescuing the damsel-in-distress. Naina and Vikram are on par emotionally and their connection is on an emotional and intellectual level. They both feel understood by the other fundamentally, and Pammi shows that that is essentially what matters the most. The rest is just trappings of life.
Claiming his Bollywood Cinderella was my first foray into Bollywood via a book — who hasn’t seen a Bollywood movie? — and I can’t wait to read what Pammi has in store for her readers next.