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Bollywood, Theme Songs, Top 5 Films, and More: Supriya Kelkar Discusses THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD

What this blog needs is good strong dose of Bollywood. And I know precisely the person to hook me up.

You know those TV shows where there’s a special musical episode and the characters suddenly find themselves in a musical? That’s a popular trope, and an enjoyable one. Far rarer is when the characters find themselves in a Bollywood musical! Now that’s a concept that has some glam and sparkle! And as it just so happens, author Supriya Kelkar has an upcoming novel for middle grade readers that’s just what the doctor ordered. Care for a plot description?

Bollywood takes over in this contemporary, magical middle grade novel about an Indian American girl whose world turns upside down when she involuntarily starts bursting into glamorous song-and-dance routines during everyday life.

You know how in Bollywood when people are in love, they sing and dance from the mountaintops? Eleven-year-old Sonali wonders if they do the same when they’re breaking up. The truth is, Sonali’s parents don’t get along, and it looks like they might be separating.

Sonali’s little brother, Ronak, is not taking the news well, constantly crying. Sonali would never do that. It’s embarrassing to let out so many feelings, to show the world how not okay you are. But then something strange happens, something magical, maybe. When Sonali gets upset during a field trip, she can’t bury her feelings like usual; instead, she suddenly bursts into a Bollywood song-and-dance routine about why she’s upset!

The next morning, much to her dismay, Sonali’s reality has shifted. Things seem brighter, almost too bright. Her parents have had Bollywood makeovers. Her friends are also breaking out into song and dance. And somehow, everyone is acting as if this is totally normal.

Sonali knows something has gone wrong, and she suspects it has something to do with her own mismanaged emotions. Can she figure it out before it’s too late?

Yeah. This is precisely the kind of storyline that demands closer inspection. And all this would be cool in and of itself but did you know that Ms. Kelkar used to write for Bollywood? To the interview!


Betsy Bird: First and foremost, thank you so much for answering my questions! Before we get into it, how are you and your family holding up in these days?

Supriya Kelkar: Thank you! I hope you and your family are all safe and well. We are hanging in there. My husband is a healthcare worker so we were worried for him and our other family and friends in the healthcare field and on the front lines. I’m so grateful he was vaccinated and we are thinking of those who didn’t get the chance to and everyone who has been affected by COVID-19. 

BB: We’ve seen a couple children’s books discuss Bollywood in some way in the past but I think I can say with a lot of certainty that almost none of the authors writing those books had actually written for Bollywood themselves. And you have! Why the switchover to writing books?

SK: I started working in Bollywood right out of college. I was actually writing children’s books the entire time I worked in Bollywood and have hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters over the 15 years of trying to get my diverse books published. I take a lot of what I’ve learned from Bollywood and use it in writing children’s books, specifically how I learned that films (and books) need to entertain while getting the writer’s point across. I always try to make sure my books are entertaining, whether they’re funny or dramatic, while exploring their themes. 

BB: Can you tell us a bit about your own personal history with Bollywood? What is it about it that you adore?

SK: When I was growing up, there was no South Asian American representation in books. I never got to see myself in any books, TV shows, movies, or even commercials. I also grew up in a town that did not appreciate diversity. I was bullied daily over bindis, my religion, my languages, Indian accents, my food, my clothing, my skin color, my hair, and my culture. I was yearning for representation and I found it in Bollywood. It was a space where my languages and food were normal, where my cultural clothing was celebrated, and where I got to see brown people as heroes. Bollywood is a connection to my family in India and my friends here as well. I had searched for years for a way to incorporate it in a book and was so thrilled one day when I woke up with the idea for THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD.

BB: As a children’s librarian I’ve watched the trends of children’s fiction change over a long period of time. In the 1970s and 80s there was this whole wave of middle grade fiction that talked about divorce. It was all just very Judy Blume-esque. Then, as we moved forward in time, it’s not like divorces disappeared from the world, but they just weren’t being talked about in children’s books as often. What was the impetus of making it a key part of your story?

SK: Separations and divorces are much more common than they were 30 years ago in the Indian-American community, but they can still be treated by some people as something to hide, because there is a lot of emphasis on social perception in the community. And I know so many Indian-American kids are dealing with a lot at home due to their parents not getting along, but they don’t always have an avenue to express that because it oftentimes just isn’t talked about. So it was important to me to address it in this book so these readers will know they’re not alone.

BB: Sonali has a tendency to break out into song involuntarily when beset by big feelings. Let’s turn that around a bit. If every time you walked into a room and it played “The Supriya Kelkar Theme Song” what song would that be? And would you sing along?

 SK: I love this question! And it is so hard for me to answer because like Sonali, I think my background music would change with my emotions. But I think the one song that would be “The Supriya Kelkar Theme Song” is the title track to the Hindi movie, Dangal. It is about fighting for your dreams and believing in yourself and I would be singing and dancing along!

BB: I just listened to that track and I commend your choice. Now if kids reading this book suddenly want to see some Bollywood films of their own, what are the Top Five you’d recommend to them to get started?

SK: Another hard question! There are so many to choose from but here are five that can serve as an introduction to Bollywood. I would preface this list with the recommendation that parents and caregivers preview the films first since the Indian film rating system does not have all the levels that the Hollywood system has and older films from anywhere in the world can be problematic.

1.) Lagaan – a historical epic that was nominated for an Oscar in 2002

2.) Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar – a 1991 film about love and a bike race.

3) Kuch Kuch Hota Hai – a 1998 story with a love triangle and summer camp. As with any old movie that can be problematic, my kids and I pause this movie frequently to discuss sexism and the patriarchy.

4.) Lage Raho Munna Bhai – a 2006 film about a Mumbai gangster who starts to hallucinate Mahatma Gandhi.

5.) Dangal – a 2016 biopic about Geeta and Babita Phogat, sisters who became international wrestlers. Geeta was the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics for wrestling. 

BB: And finally, what are you working on next?

SK: I’m wrapping up work on THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD and working on several picture books and middle grade novels that I’m really excited about, including MY NAME, a picture book that comes out in 2023, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat, and I’m working on the art for AMERICAN DESI, written by Jyoti Rajan Gopal and illustrated by me, which comes out in 2022.


Well, to be perfectly frank, that was delightful. Huge thanks to Supriya for answering my questions. Thanks too to Shivani Annirood and the folks at Simon & Schuster for setting this up. THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD hits shelves on May 18th so be sure to grab yourself a copy in a week!

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Kathy Ryan says:

    Love this story. Many years ago when I was an undergraduate in India and walking in the mountains of Simla a group of boys broke out into song as I approached. Lovely.