Local author Puneet Bhandal is the brains behind the UK's first Bollywood fiction series, launched last week at Waterstones in Uxbridge. SIBA MATTI chatted with her to find out more about Starlet Rivalry, the first of four titles to be released
FORMER journalist Puneet Bhandal never imagined that she would be juggling a career as a novelist with her responsibilities as a mother-of-two.
But after searching and failing to find books suitable for her four-year-old daughter, Roma, she was inspired to put pen to paper.
The result is Starlet Rivalry, the first in an original four-book series of Bollywood fiction.
Puneet, who lives in Hillingdon, explains: "I realised there was a gap in the market when the only books I could find for Roma seemed to revolve around school girls or princesses. There was nothing reflecting the glamour, fashion and entertainment of Bollywood.
"I started by writing a 1,000-word picture book, which I sent to at least 10 publishers, and I was amazed when they all gave really positive feedback.
"But although they loved the concept, they suggested that it wasn't quite right for children as young as Roma, so I decided to expand my ideas and put together a 32,000-word novel, aimed at older schoolchildren and teenagers." Puneet, who grew up in Southall, became immersed in Hindu culture from a young age, developing a fascination with books about colonial India written by Ruth Prawer Tab Hvala.
And while working as entertainments editor for Asian newspaper, Eastern Eye, mingling with Bollywood celebrities was all part of a day's work for Puneet, giving her an insight into the drama and decadence of the industry. She says this is reflected in the book.
"Starlet Rivalry is all about the highs and lows of the Bollywood industry. The story focuses on two main characters: Bela, who is working hard to achieve success having found fame through winning a dance competition; and her rival, Monica, who, like many actors in Bollywood, has had a helping hand from her parents.
"Bollywood films always tend to have a moral to the story and focus on good overcoming evil, and that's another theme in the book. Although Monica has done her best to overshadow Bela, she would never do the same - even though she may have had the opportunity."
But Puneet, who is also mother to Arjun, two, stresses that the Bollywood series is not just for Asian readers.
"I have been careful not to include any language or terms that would confuse non-Asian readers, and I hope the books can be enjoyed by everyone, including those for whom English is a second language, and even those who are more reluctant readers. The illustrations by Megan Davidson are amazing and the book always grabs people's attention.
"Having said that, I think Bollywood is very underrated. Most people here know little about it and tend to associate the industry with Shilpa Shetty, but she was almost unknown before she appeared on Big Brother.
I think it would be good for people to get a dose of a different country's culture."
Puneet is currently writing the second book, which is due to be published in July, and is working on the plots and chapters for the final two instalments in the series, which will bbe in bookshops at Christmas and in summer 2010 respectively. [25cf] For more information about Puneet and the Bollywood Series, see www.puneetbhandal.com 20090204