Does the world need one more sappy Bollywood romance? Probably not. But is Bollywood still going to come up with silly love stories that have nothing new to offer and are rehashes of what we have already seen a gazillion times? Most definitely. These films will have you rolling your eyes at their mediocrity but you will still be dragged to them like a moth to a flame.
The same holds true for books based on Indian love stories. There are plenty of those out there but the publishing industry keeps coming up with new ones because they know those who like romance will lap them up. (We are a gullible lot.)
‘The Marriage Game’ by Sara Desai is basically a love story of a ‘dashing’ boy (who has unresolved issues) and a ‘beautiful’ girl (who is oblivious to the fact that she’s gorgeous). They initially hate each other and then invariably fall in love. Because, really, isn’t that what happens in real life all the time? Throw in a complication or two and a horde of annoying, supportive, loud relatives and The Marriage Game is your regular Dharma Productions or Yash Raj film.
Here, Desai introduces us to Layla Patel who returns home, from New York, to her family in San Francisco after her boyfriend cheats on her and she is fired from her job. Her dad offers her a chance to make a fresh start and lets her use the space above their family restaurant to set up her own recruitment business. He has leased the space to a corporate downsizing company but he tells her he will take care of it. But he has a heart attack before he’s able to sort things out.
Enters Sam Mehta who pretty much falls in love with Layla at first sight. But things are, of course, far from easy, with Layla having given up on love, Sam’s guilt about not being able to protect his sister from her abusive husband (and thus failing his parents as a son), and the two fighting over who rightfully owns the office space.
I bought the book because it had a nice cover. I hadn’t even read the blurb. What could go wrong with a book that pretty, I thought. It’s not that I was disappointed by the story. For those of us who grew up on a steady diet of Shah Rukh Khan’s romances, The Marriage Game brings about a strong sense of déjà vu. As predictable and common as the story is, you can’t give up on it because you, thanks to voyeuristic tendencies, want to know how the story reaches its inevitable end.
But Desai’s writing is tedious and the characters aren’t convincing. You feel nothing for Layla and Sam. The jokes don’t make you laugh—they sometimes elicit a chuckle at best. Reading The Marriage Game feels very much like watching a movie. You can literally see the scenes unfolding before your eyes. This book was apparently one of Oprah Magazine’s Most Anticipated Romances of 2020 and though I can’t, for the love of life, understand why, I enjoyed it while it lasted. It’s a fun book to pick up if you want something light to read while sipping on a gin and tonic on a bright sunny afternoon. But if you want a good read, then don’t be swayed by the lovely cover and spend your money on something else.