Author Shobhan Bantwal is an award-winning author of six novels, multicultural women's fiction with romantic elements, branded as “Bollywood in a Book.” Alli offers a review of Shobhan’s latest book, The Reluctant Matchmaker, here. Her debut novel, The Dowry Bride, won the Golden Leaf award in 2008, and The Unexpected Son won the 2012 National Indie Award for Excellence. Shobhan’s short fiction has also won honors and awards in nationwide competitions, and her articles have been featured in The Writer Magazine, Romantic Times, India Abroad, India Currents, and New Woman.
As a teenager growing up in the sleepy, dusty little town of Belgaum in southwestern India, it was inevitable that I would be influenced by Bollywood, the affectionate and slightly mocking term for Bombay Hollywood (Bombay is now referred to as Mumbai). India churns out more movies each year than any other country in the world. Why? Because a movie packed with action, emotion, songs, dances, and a dramatic love story offers the perfect escape from the poverty and despair that plague India's masses.
Movies are highly popular in India. People save money for tickets, then stand in long lines in the blistering heat or soaking rains of India to see their favorite heroes and heroines on the big screen. In recent years, Bollywood movies, with their color and spice, have even charmed many American movie-goers. Some recent examples are Bend it like Beckham, Slumdog Millionaire, and Monsoon Wedding.
As a young adult, I was an avid reader and fan of popular American and European fiction. I was puzzled as to why the exciting Bollywood tales could not be adapted to books. If America could have its Harlequin and Great Britain its Mills and Boon, why couldn’t India have its own version of romance fiction? After all, Indian movies are basically romances, and India is the land of the Kama Sutra, the only known ancient primer on the art of love-making.
After waiting in vain for decades for an Indian romance author to emerge, I decided to write "Bollywood-in-a-Book" myself—at the ripe age of fifty. By then I had made a happily married life and a successful career for myself in the United States. I call my writing career a “menopausal epiphany,” because it was a delightfully unexpected bonus, not unlike a late-in-life baby. My books are women’s fiction peppered with emotion, drama, romance, and lots of cultural detail—many of the essential elements of Bollywood.
However, when I first started out as a starry-eyed, aspiring writer around 2002, I had no idea how difficult it was to break into the tough fiction market. I had naively assumed that mailing copies of my manuscript to various publishers would stir interest in my unusual ethnic stories. Alas, I had to face the harsh realities of acquiring a reputable literary agent, editors and their stringent requirements, publishing houses and their many submission rules. Back then, self-publishing had a stigma attached to it, so I was not willing to follow that route to publication.
In my long quest for the perfect agent to represent me, I was supremely lucky that the late Elaine Koster, a wonderful and iconic agent-publisher, loved my unique fiction and signed me on as a client. She sold the rights to my books to Kensington Publishing, a mid-sized New York publisher that is still considered the largest privately owned publishing house in the world.
As a former publisher, Ms. Koster had published famous names like Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Toni Morrison, and as an agent, she represented noted New York Times’ bestsellers like Khaled Hosseini and Kimberla Lawson Robey. Although Ms. Koster sadly passed away in 2010, and the agency has shut down since then, I will always remain deeply grateful for her warm support and expert guidance.
I have had six novels published by Kensington to date, all featuring Indian or Indian-American characters. The themes range from hot-button social issues like dowry and female feticide in contemporary India to sweet and romantic stories about second-generation Indian-Americans born and raised in the United States and facing the unique challenges of straddling two diverse cultures. My books have reached thousands of readers in North America as well as many other parts of the world. The feedback I receive from my readers about my rare tales that combine arranged marriage with romance and social interest themes is indeed heartwarming for me and my family.
The Reluctant Matchmaker, my latest novel, is a vivid blend of contemporary Indian-American culture with an unconventional romance. When petite Meena finds herself irresistibly attracted to her strikingly tall boss, Prajay, a man who's determined to find a statuesque bride to complement his remarkable height, how can Meena convince him that she is his perfect soul-mate? Is she willing to make some sacrifices to win the giant's heart?