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Nisha Sharma on romance and living bi-culturally

Nisha Sharma

Nisha Sharma grew up with Bollywood in the background so her debut novel is steeped in pop culture, romance and of course, Bollywood!

Tell us a little bit about how “My So Called Bollywood Life” came to be- when did the idea first come to your mind?

The title came first. I wrote a novel called My So-Called Bollywood Life when I was in law school, but when that didn’t sell, I put it aside. A few years later, I had to write a novel for my MFA program, and I decided to repurpose the title with a different story. 

I was really deliberate about the kind of story I wanted to tell, too. I knew that the few South Asian rep books on the market pained an unflattering picture of Indian parents, so I wanted to first change that perception in my book. I also wanted to write a story in which the main character didn’t struggle with her identity. She was happy and enjoyed her bi-cultural lifestyle. 

That’s how the current version of My So-Called Bollywood Life came to be. 

Is Winnie’s character modeled after or inspired by someone you know? 

Winnie has a lot of me in her. She’s ambitious and she knows what she wants, which is something that I’ve always had. But she’s also stubborn and a little over dramatic (also me). I think most of my characters are a patchwork of good and bad qualities from people I’ve met in my life, but Winnie is different. She and I have been together for so long, so she has more of me than any other character I’ve ever written. 

You’ve credited your father with your multiple degrees: how did dabbling in poetry, pre-med, law and finally fiction writing influence your writing? 

I think all of my degrees, the most challenging being law school and pre-med, have taught me how to have a strong work ethic, and a laser focus on the end-goal. Both of those things are required to finish a novel. 

I also think studying as much as I have has taught me how to really enjoy research which helps me in creating layers to my stories. 

The poetry and art help me balance my fact-based mindset and encourage freedom of expression. For me, I need both to write a book. 

As a die-hard Jane Austen fan, describe your dream Jane Austen Bollywood remake with your dream cast.

This is such a great question! 

I know we already have Bride and Prejudice but I would like a Pride and Prejudice that takes place outside of India. Indian families from different parts of India (like Punjab and Gujrat), with a hero that’s a tech Moghul and an English teacher heroine. I love Parineeti Chopra and I think Farwad Khan would be an excellent Darcy. 

Did you need to do a lot of research into all the Bollywood movies you mention in the book? We loved the Bollywood watchlist at the end!

I love the watchlist at the end, too! I was so happy I had my editor’s support there! 

I actually did a ton of research for the book. I studied Bollywood film history, Bollywood film theory, and film structure. I did hands-on research as well by going to movie theaters, sitting in projection rooms, learning about splicing film. 

I’ve watched Bollywood movies extensively my whole life so the references throughout the book came naturally to me. The watchlist was pretty robust but I asked my parents to help flesh it out a bit, too. 

Was there a part of the book that was more difficult to write than the rest?

I think Winnie was the hardest part of the book to write.

I wasn’t caught up in any grand romance when I was in high school. I was taking college classes in my spare time so I could graduate early. I was writing poetry and performing in classical Indian dance shows. When I first wrote the book, there were a lot of scenes where the main character was just WORKING as a reflection of my high school days. But the book is a romance, so we had to strip a lot of that out. I had to figure out how to balance Winnie’s character which took a lot of work. 

What’s the next in the horizon for you? Is there another book in the works? 

There are tons of books in the works! I’m writing the companion book to My So-Called Bollywood Life called Radha's Recipe for Bollywood Beats. It’s about dancing and food which are two of my favorite things other than Bollywood. 

I’m also working on an adult romance trilogy about three Sikh brothers who are out to save their father’s company from ruination. Hopefully, you’ll see a lot more from me in the future! 

Thank you for having me! I really enjoyed the interview! 

Also see Behind the Scenes: The Boy Who Asked Why

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