Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
We are in for a treat today! Today we have Supriya Kelkar, author of That Thing About Bollywood which is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
JR: Hi Supriya, and welcome to Mixed-Up Files!
SK: Thank you! It is so great to be back!
JR: First off, for those who don’t know, what can you tell us about the book and where the idea for the story came from?
SK: Yes! Bollywood is the nickname for the Hindi film industry. It is one of the largest film industries in the world. I grew up never getting to see myself in an American book, TV show, or movie so Bollywood gave me a little of the representation I was looking for. It was a space where my food and cultures and clothing, all of which were mocked daily in my small town that didn’t appreciate diversity, were celebrated. And it was a place where people who looked like me were heroes. I learned Hindi by watching 3 Hindi movies a week and even went on to become a Bollywood screenwriter as an adult, working on the writing teams for several big Bollywood films, including India’s entry into the Oscars, and another film which was the top grossing Bollywood movie of all time at that moment in time.
So as an adult, I tried for a very long time to put my love for Bollywood into a book. One day I realized most Bollywood films from the 80s and 90s were very obvious about what the characters were going through. Feelings were loud, things were exaggerated and colorful. So I thought what if there is a classic-Bollywood loving kid who is the opposite of that, not very good at showing her feelings?
And that’s how the idea for That Thing about Bollywood came to be. It is the story of Sonali, a Bollywood-loving kid who isn’t very good at expressing herself and showing her true feelings. One day a life-changing event causes her to get a magical condition called Bollywooditis, which makes her express herself in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song-and-dance numbers. As the magic spreads, Sonali must find out what is causing it and how to stop it before all her true memories and the feelings associated with them are gone forever.
JR: That really does sound amazing! Last time you were here, I told you that absolutely love Bollywood movies! What is it about the genre that makes for good storytelling?
SK: Bollywood, like many kinds of world cinema, is escapism at its finest. It’s full of joy and drama, striking colors and incredible dances. I think it can be a powerful way to tell really serious stories too, and sometimes the musical format can help deliver messages from your theme really easily.
I used some of that theory when it came to writing That Thing about Bollywood too. The fun of seeing your main character bursting out in big song-and-dance numbers let me go into really serious issues too like changing families and health issues.
JR: Last time you gave us some of your favorites, have there been any newer Bollywood films that you’d like to add to the list?
SK: I did not do a very good job at keeping up with the newer Bollywood movies over the past year and the ones I did see were not my favorites. But I did spend that time introducing my kids to older Hindi movies. The one movie we watched over and over again was Lagaan, streaming on Netflix. It was my favorite movie back in 2001, and was nominated for an Oscar. It is a historical epic with songs and dances and colonization and decolonization and my kids love to see it.
JR: I’m going to have to check that out! In your book, you deal with some heavy topics, like divorce. Was that tough to tackle and find the right balance for a Middle Grade audience?
SK: It was initially when I was outlining the book and thinking about its structure and the scenes. But when I started writing, the magic of Bollywooditis let me give readers a break when things were really tough in Sonali’s parents’ marriage, and those magical elements really helped me explore Sonali’s feelings in a way that felt right for a middle grade audience.
JR: I usually break out into song as well when dealing with tough topics. How much of you is in Sonali?
S: I am very much the opposite of Sonali, in that my emotions are very obvious to anyone who sees me. I will say at times I felt embarrassed of how easily I would cry when I felt for something I was going through, or even when I would cry because I’d really deeply feel what someone else is going through. I can still remember being a kid and having to sing prayers at a family friend’s grandparent’s memorial service. I don’t think I’d ever even met the grandparent because they lived in India. But something about seeing our family friends upset led me to sob throughout the singing. I remember some adults laughed in surprise, wondering why I was so upset, before trying to comfort me. I could still get a little embarrassed thinking about that moment as an adult, but thanks to writing this book and going on Sonali’s journey with her, I know that you are entitled to your feelings and it’s actually a great thing to care so deeply for others and have empathy.
JR: I agree. If you could escape into one film, which would it be?
SK: Could Jurassic Park be a Bollywood musical? I’d like to think it could be. I’d love to sing and dance about my feelings while dealing with those dinosaurs.
JR: I’ll count it as a musical for this. Many authors use local flavor to influence some of their books. Does where you live now lend anything to your books?
SK: It does! I grew up in Michigan and still live there so I loved setting American as Paneer Pie there and making the fictional town there as close to my hometown as possible. Similarly, because I lived in L.A. for a while and traveled there a lot for work and vacations, I felt like it was the perfect setting for That Thing about Bollywood because there are already magical elements about L.A. thanks to Hollywood, and it seemed like the best place for Sonali’s Bollywooditis to manifest.
JR: Read on your site that you have a purple belt in karate. How up to date is that?
SK: This question made me laugh for a really long time! It is sadly not very up-to-date. But it was clearly a bragging point in my childhood bio from 1989.
JR: I still would fear you! In that same vein, would you describe yourself as the toughest MG author out there?
SK: Well I didn’t see any other MG authors saying they could sing-and-dance their way out of dino trouble, so maybe?
JR: TRUE! What are you working on next?
SK: I’m working on my next middle grade novel, several picture books including my 2023 release, My Name, and I’m working on my illustrator debut for American Desi, a book by Jyoti Rajan Gopal that comes out in June 2022 from Little, Brown.
JR: I can’t wait to see all of them! Any upcoming appearances?
JR: You Aare definitely busy! How can people follow you on social media?
JR: I’d like to once again thank Supriya for joining us here at Mixed-Up Files, and everyone else, make sure you go out and get a copy of THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD!
Until next time, Mixed-Up Filers, have a great start to summer!