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Exploring a dysfunctional family with depth and levity (IANS Interview)

 
By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Oct 11 (IANS) She's named after a bird and Parinda Joshi, born and raised in Ahmedabad and now based in the Silicon Valley, is flying high with her fourth novel, "A House full of Men" (HarperCollins), a tale about a loving Indian family that's also dysfunctional, people who can take a bullet for each other but can also be inconsiderate and selfish.



"There are delightful stories of family bonds hidden in there with witty and humorous dialogues. It also deals with love that is complicated and obsessive and glorious in all its messiness. Not to mention some pertinent issues that have organically made their way into the story such as parent remarriages, gender stereotypes, body shaming, teenage angst, et al related with depth and levity, Joshi told IANS in an interview.

Twenty-five-year-old Kittu has left Lucknow only on two occasions in her life. The first trip involved the last rites of her grandmother. The second involved a wedding, thankfully, but she returned home to her mother's funeral.

She has never forgiven her mother for leaving her alone in a house full of men. Is there anyone at home she can share her deepest thoughts with? Anyone who can lend an ear to her endless relationship issues, manic obsessions and simple aspirations? Who's got the time?

Kittu might live in a full house, but sometimes, she feels like she's all alone in the world.

How did "A House full of Men" come about?

Many years back, in the US she had to make a product pitch to the leadership team. She walked into the main conference room bright and early one morning and froze.

"There were 14 men seated there; mostly in their 50s and mostly white. It was intimidating. But I took a deep breath and went about my business as usual. That evening when my husband asked me how it went, all I could say was, it was a boardroom full of men. He asked more questions about my pitch, and I repeated, subconsciously, that it was a boardroom full of men. My mind had interpreted that situation in a completely different way as if it were a conspiracy, as if I was being set up for failure. The reality was different; it was just like any other meeting. My own reaction to that situation took me by surprise. And it stayed with me," Joshi elaborated.

Fast forward a few years.

"When I was searching for the topic for my next novel, I realised I loved dysfunctional family dramas. Hadn't read too many books in this space but watched several shows and movies -- 'Schitt's Creek', 'Two & Half Men', 'Everyone Loves Raymond', Woody Allen movies, 'Kapoor & Sons'. And I love Lucknow for its art, architecture, and culinary history. So, I decided to marry the 'room full of men' concept with dysfunctional family genre and Lucknow and made it a fun, feel-good, emotional novel," she added.

The book essays some unforgettable characters -- High BP, Bark Twain and PG Woodhouse.

How did Joshi name them such?

"Bark Twain was named Bittu when he'd been sourced as a puppy. High BP (the protagonist Kittu's cantankerous grandfather) loved reading spiritual books aloud while seated on the veranda in his rocking chair. The puppy would hang around with him, playing footsie, jumping over and under the rocking chair and tugging at his starched white pajamas. High BP took this for a literary bent and thus the puppy was rechristened from Bittu to Bark Twain. Kittu had expressed immense relief that day.

"As for PG Wodehouse, I grew up reading his books. I love the witty banter and the biting sarcasm and the delightful humor in his books. I had many posters of famous personalities in my room during my younger years. I remember talking to them. Of course, they never talked back. But that's where I borrowed the concept from. Kittu goes to the poster of PG Wodehouse in her room with all her issues and even non-issues. Sometimes he gives her quirky advice. Other times it's banal. Sometimes it's life-altering. I even got him to attempt speaking Hindi. It was a lot of fun," Joshi explained.

How did she come to be named Parinda?

"My mother was reading 'Arabian Nights' when she was pregnant with me. There was a character named Parizade in it. She modified it slightly and voila, I was given a rare name. It wasn't so rare, as I quickly learnt during my childhood when my family would visit various palaces in the neighboring state of Rajasthan and invariably a guide or a security guard would point at large swaths of nets covering the palace and proudly say, "These nets were to keep the parindas (pigeons) away so they wouldn't ruin the space'. It always left my little self dejected -- but she soldiered on.

She's covered a vast spectrum in her four novels. How has she managed such a wide sweep?

"The first two novels were because of my experience working in the sports and music industry in LA. My debut novel -- 'Live from London' -- was about a young musician against the backdrop of the British music industry. My second novel -- 'Powerplay' -- was about the acquisition of a fictional IPL team. My third novel -- 'Made in China' -- was based on a wacky newspaper article I had read about the black-market trade in China. I'm Gujarati so entrepreneurship stories float all around me. I married those stories to the article, and I had a novel. And my latest novel is about a a genre I'm a big fan of," Joshi elaborated.

"Made In China" has been adapted into a movie starring Rajkumar Rao, Mouni Roy and Boman Irani. It was Joshi's first exposure to screenwriting, which she describes as an "enriching experience".

"I spent a year along with the director (Mikhil Musale) to translate the book into a screenplay. From that point on, more writers and even a dialogue writer was brought on and the script took on a life of its own. It was an enriching experience. Writing a book and writing a screenplay are two entirely different things. Essentially, an entirely new art form needs to be studied for a novelist who wants to venture into the screenwriting space.

"It's not all just about tools and techniques either. It's a personality thing; some people are just better suited for a specific type of craft. Screenwriting, for instance, is more dialogue heavy and requires a knack for it. I really took to it and my new screenplay recently got commissioned by a leading production house in India," Joshi explained.?

Since she lives in a country far away from where her novels are set, how does she manage the authenticity factor?

"The world is now flat and the Internet is a great enabler of it. Even after years of living away, my disposition is very Indian -- which is why I continue to be drawn to books, movies and other forms of art by Indians. Additionally, I always joke that Silicon Valley is mini India which continually exposes me to countless fellow Indians and their lives, both here and back home. Plus, human emotions are universal," she maintained.?

Like "Made in China", is there any possibility of the present book being turned into a movie?

"I hope so. I'm in talks with a few production houses who've expressed interest in it. I feel like this story has enough meat and varied characters to be converted into a web series," Joshi concluded.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

--IANS
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