Interview with Supriya Kelkar about THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD

Welcome back to the MG Book Village, Supriya! Thanks so much for stopping by.

Thank you for having me here, Jarrett! It is so great to be back at the MG Book Village.

Since you’ve been here to discuss your previous contemporary Middle Grave novel, American as Paneer Pie, you’ve released a historical Middle Grade novel (Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame — which we were honored and delighted to host the cover reveal of!), a picture book (Bindu’s Bindis), and also announced that you’ll be illustrating your first picture book (American Desi, written by Jyoti Rajan Gopal). You have been seriously busy!

Yes, it has definitely been a busy year! I’ve been learning lots about the illustrating side of books and working on revisions and first drafts of new projects too so that has been exciting as well.

You are here to chat about your upcoming release, That Thing About Bollywood. Could you tell us what the book is about?

That Thing about Bollywood is the story of Sonali, a Bollywood-obsessed girl who isn’t good at expressing her feelings. Sonali’s parents don’t get along and it looks like they may be separating. One day, something magical happens that causes her to express herself in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song and dance numbers. As the Bollywood magic grows and Sonali’s whole world starts to turn Bollywood, she must figure out what is causing the magic and how to stop it before it is too late. 

American As Paneer Pie, your other contemporary novel, is strictly realistic. But That Thing About Bollywood has lots of fantastic elements. Was that always part of Sonali’s story?

It was! I had actually been searching for a way to incorporate Bollywood into a book for a long time. One day I woke up with the idea that classic 90s Bollywood is about expressing yourself very obviously, so what if there is a girl who isn’t good at expressing herself, and magic causes her to show her true feelings in a Bollywood way? So magic and Bollywood were part of Sonali’s story right from the very first thought I had about this story.

The magical or fantastical elements of That Thing About Bollywood are all rooted in, or relate back to, very real issues and emotions, some of them very tough. Do you think there are any advantages or particular strengths to addressing such topics and feelings with fantasy?

I really wanted to explore what happens in some families in the Asian American community, where things like sickness and separations can sometimes be hidden from the community. And I think having the fantastical elements of Bollywood magic in the mix can sometimes let readers feel a little more at ease about the discussions of these issues in the book that are really quite serious.

What do you hope your readers take away from That Thing About Bollywood?

I hope readers realize it is okay to express themselves and not be embarrassed of all the feelings they have. I hope it inspires them to find their voice and know how powerful they are.

Can you tell us about your own history with Bollywood film, song, and dance?

When I was growing up, there were no South Asian American characters in American books, and there weren’t any roles for South Asian American actors that weren’t racist depictions. I never saw anyone who looked like me in any American media. But Bollywood, the nickname for the Hindi movie industry, one of the largest film industries in the world, gave me just a little of the representation I was looking for. Bollywood gave me a space where people who looked like me were heroes, and where my languages, and foods, and cultures were celebrated. I even learned Hindi from watching 3 Hindi movies a week as a child, because they weren’t subtitled back then so I had to figure out what was being said. And when I grew up, I ended up working as a Bollywood screenwriter on the writing teams for several Hindi movies, including India’s entry into the Oscars.

What’s your favorite thing about the world of Bollywood? Did you include that in That Thing About Bollywood?

It is so hard for me to pick just one thing but if I had to, it would be the songs and dance numbers. I tried to pick some of my favorite Bollywood tropes and pay homage to them in the musical numbers Sonali does in the book. And I’ve been counting down to the release of That Thing about Bollywood with movie clips of all of these Bollywood tropes on Twitter!

Do you have any appearances or events scheduled to celebrate your new release? Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

I do! The virtual launch party for That Thing about Bollywood is being hosted by Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, MI. You can get the Zoom link and signed copies at this link!  And readers can find more information about me at my website, www.supriyakelkar.com, and find me on Instagram @supriya.kelkar and Twitter @supriyakelkar_.

Thank you again for joining us here, Supriya! And congratulations on the release of another wonderful book!

Supriya is an author, illustrator, and screenwriter who grew up in the Midwest, where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (Tu Books, 2017), Supriya has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films, including Lage Raho Munna Bhai and Eklavya: The Royal Guard, India’s entry into the 2007 Academy Awards. Supriya’s books include AHIMSA, THE MANY COLORS OF HARPREET SINGH (Sterling, 2019, illlustrated by Alea Marley), AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2020, (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020) STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME (Tu Books, 2020), BINDU’S BINDIS (Sterling, 2021, illustrated by Parvati Pillai), and THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD (Simon and Schuster BFYR, 2021). She is the illustrator of Jyoti Rajan Gopal’s AMERICAN DESI (Little Brown 2022). Supriya is represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Kim Yau at Echo Lake Entertainment for film/TV rights.