12-year-old Bela’s Mum is a teacher of Bharatanatyam, the oldest traditional dance form in India, and, since Bela has been training since she was small, she is very good at it, but she also loves to add some modern Bollywood or Western dance steps. It’s no spoiler to say that when she gets the opportunity to compete in Dance Starz on TV, she wins, and goes to the Bollywood Academy, as the story is really about what happens when she gets there. Nepotism is a strong theme – most of the other students are related to, or close to, other people in the film industry, and boast about their possessions and holidays. Much is made of Bela’s ordinary family and supportive friends: she is treated like an outsider, and feels it. Monica, the mean girl obligatory in many school stories, is the daughter of the producer of Dance Starz and a famous film star Mum, and, with her friends backing her, Monica takes every opportunity to make snide comments and play cruel tricks on Bela, but Bela’s kind heart eventually gets Monica out of a tricky situation, and it looks as if all will be well.
Puneet Bhandal wrote this book because, as a young girl, she wasn’t finding stories that would connect her to her country of origin. She is a former Bollywood film journalist, so she knows all about the glamorous world she is describing: the costumes, the sequins, the make-up, as well as the dancing. We find out about the auditions, the struggles for parts on TV and in film, and the staff who help the students to achieve their goals. The Academy is fictional, but many places mentioned are real, and there is a lot of lovely Indian food around. The cover is attractive, and, since this debut novel is labelled No 1, it looks as if there will be more stories from the Bollywood Academy, and very popular they will be too.