Get the Look: Nisha Sharma’s My So-Called Bollywood Life Cover!

When we spied the awesome Heidi Heilig—author of The Girl From Everywhere series—creating these amazing outfits to match some super fab YA book covers on Twitter, we asked her to do some exclusively for BN Teen! So now you can covet the look, and find out how to recreate it, too! 

First up, debut author Nisha Sharma and her bright, poppy cover for My So-Called Bollywood Life!

Looking at Nisha’s gorgeous cover for My So-Called Bollywood Life, the first thing I noticed was the pop of those lovely mod colors, as well as the exuberant motion of Winnie Mehta, her main character. This cover is so joyous and full of (Bollywood) life! I tried to capture that spirit in the bright, flowy maxi dress and the sparkle of the clutch. And of course, the swing of the chandelier earrings—I think they might be the exact ones Winnie is wearing!

Amethyst and Blue Topaz Ring, Ross Simon, $495
Prada Velvet Plateau Sandals, $825

Vintage Hanro Siesta Dress, $725

Oscar de la Renta Clutch, $423

Carousel Jewels Chandelier Earrings, $102

Heilig: What inspired My So-Called Bollywood Life?

Sharma: My So-Called Bollywood Life is the story about Winnie Mehta, an Indian-American Jersey girl who thinks she’s met her soulmate. The only problem is he breaks up with her before the start of their senior year of high school. Now she must figure out if she still has a shot at true love. Luckily, she gets a little help from a bubbly best friend, a new guy, and her loveable family.

The inspiration for the book came from two revelations. The first was that some people didn’t know what “Bollywood” actually meant. As early as the 1990s, the word “Bollywood” was used as a descriptor for things like clothes and food. Bollywood is the Hindi language film industry located in Mumbai, India. It’s not a catch-all word for “Indian.” I wanted to clarify this misconception while showing the fun-factor of Bollywood movies. The title is a play on the way the word has been used as a descriptor for so many things.

The second revelation was that so many books written about South Asian characters growing up in America wrestled with the conflicts between traditional parents and “modern thinking” teenagers. Finding a YA South Asian romance that celebrated positive parent-child relationships was like finding a unicorn. But supportive moms and dads are a commonality for many South-Asian teenagers, and I felt like that was also a story that needed to be told.

So when it came time to write my MFA thesis at Wilkes University, I decided to write a story that closely resembles my upbringing while dispensing stereotypes and misconceptions…and also referencing as many Bollywood movies as I could get away with.

Heilig: The book is about fate and making your own choices. That feels especially relevant to the YA audience. Expound.

Sharma: Growing up, I was always fascinated about the way my non-Indian friends wrestled with the concept of “free will” and making choices. Once they turned 16, they would (try to) do whatever they wanted. It looked like it was easy for them to set aside their parents choices and learn how to make their own.

I’m 32 and I still feel like my parents make decisions for me. I once fasted every Monday for sixteen weeks to pray for a bad choice that I hadn’t even made yet just because an astrologer told my mother that I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t.

Winnie Mehta’s choices and fate are pre-determined like destinations on a route. Her lack of choices may be extreme for some, or it may hit close to home for others. I think the lesson is how she navigates with the map she’s been given. That’s relevant for a YA audience because like me and my friends at sixteen, it’s all about discovering if you’re the type of person to follow the path you’ve been given, take an uncharted shortcut, or throw away the map all together.

Heilig: Winnie’s a film geek–and you’ve already sold movie rights to the book. How’d that come about?

Sharma: I wrote My So-Called Bollywood Life for my MFA program as my thesis. To graduate, I had to read a piece of my novel in front of an audience of students and teachers. One of the teachers who heard me read was Susan Cartsonis. Susan reached out to me on Facebook after I graduated and asked to read the book. Two weeks after I sent it to her, she called me and asked if she could share it with a friend of hers, Gurinder Chadha. I wasn’t stupid so I said “absolutely.” I was lucky enough to get really great comprehensive notes about film clubs, film festivals, and 35mm film splicing from them. I made their changes, and a few weeks later, they made me an offer. I sold film rights to producer Susan Cartsonis (who’s worked on movies like The Duff  and What Women Want) and Gurinder Chadha (the director of Bend it Like Beckham). Two weeks after that, I sold the book to my editor and the rest is history!

Heilig: What was the process and inspiration for the cover? 

Sharma: Developing the cover for My So-Called Bollywood Life took a long time, and involved many edits, mock ups and in-depth conversations about whether a South Asian teenager from Princeton, New Jersey, would wear ripped jeans, or if Punjabi teenagers would wear their hair in long braids.

I started by drafting a memo about character features, character traits, and settings in the book. I paired that with various pictures and references to scenes in Bollywood movies. Then the title of the book changed and with that, the cover concept changed to ticket stubs with stylized font. It was really cute, and I liked it a lot, but when my title changed back to the original, and when my editor and I received feedback about highlighting the diversity in the book through our cover art, we went back to my original memo.

After that, we came up with a few different cover options, but nothing really fit the story. They ended up hiring a diverse graphic artist to use a modern esthetic and create a South Asian teenager in motion. The resulting image is of Winnie Mehta who wears an earring that resemble the same earrings she wears in the book. Her hair is, as usual, in a braid, but most importantly, she looks free and happy.

When seeing the book cover, my hope is that readers will know not only is the story #ownvoices, but it’s also a happy, fun book.

Heilig: So we have to ask: best Bollywood recs for YA fans? 

Sharma: For YA fans, I recommend the movie Khoobsurat. It’s a remake of a Bollywood 1980 classic, and it’s one of Disney’s first major feature films in Bollywood. Sonam Kapoor is adorable, and who can say no to Fawad Khan as a Rajput prince?

For an amazing, nuanced comedy, the movie Dil Dhadakne Do is a great watch.

For a more comprehensive list of suggestions, look for the extended glossary at the end of My So-Called Bollywood Life! I had a blast putting that list together and I’m curious to know what other people think of some of the movie recommendations.

Heilig: What’s the difference between a Hollywood ending and Bollywood ending? 

Sharma: This is a great question! Bollywood movies have developed over the decades and at one time, the difference was a “happily ever after.” Hollywood movie endings depended on the genre while movie-goers could always depend on seeing a Bollywood movie with a romance that ended in an HEA.

Now with globalization and the increased influence in western media, I believe the difference between Bollywood and Hollywood endings is closure. With Hollywood movies, not everything has to be resolved (even though I always think it should), and not everyone has to have an answer to their love life dilemmas. However, Bollywood still strives to provide answers to all of the questions that are asked throughout the course of the film. If there is a love story, then viewers will know whether the hero and heroine are going to end up together. If there is a murderer on the loose, he doesn’t get away. The murderer is defeated.

Although globalization hurts the opportunity for Bollywood fans to always get their HEAs, it helps Bollywood movies to address gender bias, economic turmoil in India, and predatory behavior. So truthfully, I’ll take a Hollywood ending over a Bollywood one if there is fair representation.

My So-Called Bollywood Life hits shelves in May, but you can pre-order now!

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