In Chalaili, an Indian hill station stranded above the clouds, where the trees and flowers are of ravishing hues and the annual monsoon hits with monumental force, a small enclave of British expatriates cling to the glory of a fast-fading empire.
Into this faltering world come two starkly different but memorable women: the larger-than-life Mrs Banerjee, with her armoury of gold bangles and saris in thrilling colours, and Lydia Rushmore, a timid Surrey school teacher hurriedly married off to the town's disgraced meteorologist. Mrs Banerjee sets out to transform the run-down Chalaili theatre into Coronation Talkies, a thoroughly modern cinema showing Hollywood's latest love stories. Lydia Rushmore discovers the soothing effects of gin as she tries to fit into hill station society and please her complicated new husband.
As World War II looms in Europe and British colonial power recedes, Chalaili becomes the setting for trickery, seduction and the unveiling of shocking secrets.