Bollywood is no longer just a South Asian phenomenon. It has crossed over into other cultures and is inspiring authors to explore Bollywood themes, South Asian characters and more. One such author is Susanna Carr, who is known for her contemporary romances. Readers throughout the world find Susanna’s stories a delightful escape that has often helped them through difficult times. Reviewers frequently describe her work as “fun”, “sexy” and “a must read.”
I came across Susanna’s Harlequin Mills & Boon romance, “Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage” and was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the author’s knowledge about all things Bollywood and also about South Asian culture and mindsets. Intrigued as to why Susanna had chosen to set her romance in Bollywood, I requested her for an interview and she gladly accepted.
Over to Susanna!
While many Indian writers have written romances set in Bollywood, yours was the first Harlequin Presents story I have seen written by a Western author. Were you familiar with Bollywood and why were you inspired to write this story?
I watched my first Bollywood movie over a decade ago. It was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and I always recommend that movie as a good introduction to Hindi films. I was hooked and had to learn more about Bollywood. Fortunately, I live in an area with a large South Asian community. I can rent Bollywood movies at my local Indian video store and see the latest movies at a cinema that play Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu movies exclusively.
My husband is from Pakistan and we have two college-aged daughters. I was inspired to write Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage because of something my daughters said to me. One day they were looking at my book covers and asked why none of the heroines looked like them.
There have been Harlequin Mills & Boon romances with a South Asian hero or a South Asian heroine, but I wasn’t sure if my editor would want a romance about two South Asian main characters or a story with a heavy emphasis on Bollywood. I’m happy to say that not only did the editors immediately accept the idea, but they also encouraged more references about Bollywood and the Indian culture during the revision process.
Thanks to sites like Goodreads, reading has gone global in a big way. But do you think that Western readers (especially romance readers) are open to reading about characters who come from a different cultural mindset? What has been the response to Secrets… from American/Western readers?
Most of the responses I have received are from South Asian readers living outside of India. They appreciated seeing their culture represented in the books they read.
The response I received from American/Western book bloggers and reviewers has been curious. Many of them received the book through the publisher. These women said they wouldn’t have picked up the book on their own because they didn’t know anything about Bollywood. However, once they read the book, they found the different locale a refreshing change. They enjoyed reading about the culture and many looked forward to more books set in India.
Was there any one real-life inspiration for Tina Sharma’s character? (I was thinking of Dimple Kapadia all along as I read your story. Haha!)
I used a combination of well-known names while I created Tina. For example, I enjoy Rani Mukerji’s work and used the name Tina because of her role in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I thought of Madhuri Dixit when I described the character’s dancing talents. I also thought of Sridevi because she started performing at a very young age and I’d read she had financially supported her family, much like the heroine in my story.
I loved how you made Tina both strong and vulnerable at the same time. She was a character that was so real and relatable to me as an Indian reader. But do you think Western readers would “get” the reference to why she thinks she is not good enough for the hero, Dev?
While the average Western reader would sympathize with Tina’s insecurities, I don’t think they would understand the level of Tina’s beliefs. I feel that it would be similar to when a reader new to historical romance novels reads about the belief and value system of Regency England.
In the book, Tina’s mother resents the fact that Tina jeopardised her career by marrying Dev. I’d have thought that she would in fact be delighted she was marrying into Bollywood royalty so to speak. Your thoughts on her mindspace?
I understand your thoughts on this as it was something I had struggled with. For me, I felt that Tina’s mother needed control over Tina’s career and money, and in some ways, live out her failed dreams through her daughter. Her interference would diminish once Tina got married. With Dev’s influence, Tina could refuse projects, stop offering financial support to her family, or follow the footsteps of her mother and give up her career to raise children.
How much of research did you have to do to get the details right about Bollywood, Mumbai and the whole ethos of the movie industry in India?
I read a lot of magazines, blogs and newspaper articles. My local library was able to get documentaries about the Hindi film industry which I found extremely helpful. I also thought this was a perfect excuse to re-watch movies about Bollywood such as Luck by Chance and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon . The party that is found in the first chapter of my book was inspired by the “Deewangi Deewangi” song in Om Shanti Om.
What challenges did you face while writing this book and what excited you most about it?
I was very worried that I would get something wrong. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, I’m still learning new things about my husband’s heritage, the traditional family dynamics and cultural expectations. And, despite my best efforts, I don’t know Hindi or Urdu. Some readers had a few quibbles while reading Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage but I don’t think there was anything that pulled them out of the story.
I was excited to use Bollywood in a Harlequin Mills & Boon because I knew that it would be a perfect fit. Bollywood movies offers escapism, emotional stories and romance. So do Harlequin books!
And, of course, I was very excited to show my daughters the finished book.
Are you planning any new books set in India/Bollywood?
I definitely want to write more books with South Asian characters and I hope I get the chance. Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage is being translated in other languages and I think the publisher is interested in how it performs in the international markets.
I want to write more book set in Bollywood but I also want to branch out and use other locations and experiences found in India. I’d also like to write a South Asian romance set outside of India if I get the opportunity.
Lovely chatting with you Susanna and thanks for doing this interview. 🙂
You can check out Susanna’s books at her website: http://www.susannacarr.com