Parinda Joshi is the author of 3 novels. Her latest novel, Made In China, was adapted into a Hindi feature film starring Rajkummar Rao and Boman Irani. Born and raised in Ahmedabad, she later immigrated to Los Angeles where she navigated the challenges of starting life from scratch in an unfamiliar milieu, enriching herself with an MS in computer science, testing her limits and redefining herself.
She now resides in Silicon Valley where she leads growth analytics for a startup in the fashion industry, and is mother to her precocious mini-me. She is also a budding screenwriter, a lover of modern poetry, fitness enthusiast, an avid traveller and photographer, and a humour junkie. Chirdeep Malhotra connected with her for an exclusive interview, in which she talks about her latest book, how the book-to-screen adaptation came about, and her experience co-writing the screenplay for the movie.
Where did the idea for “Made In China” come from?
The genesis of the novel was the story about a god-fearing simple man going to China in search of a new business idea and getting caught up instead in the black-market trade. I once read a news piece that painted a vivid picture of a specific type of black-market trade in China. I’m a sucker for bizarre news. Incongruity makes for great stories in my opinion, which is why I pursued it. I belong to Gujarat, the land of entrepreneurs. I personally know many folks who travel to China in search of new businesses. I married the two stories and had a novel on my hands.
The book has been adapted into a movie of the same name, starring bigwigs like Rajkummar Rao, Boman Irani, Paresh Rawal, Mouni Roy and Sumeet Vyas, among others. The trend of Book-to-screen adaptations has certainly picked up in India, but it’s quite rare for the movie to come before the book. However, your book was published a month after the film’s release. How did this all come about?
This sequencing is far from standard in India, but it’s not as rare in the West. There are a few producers in Hollywood who have had considerable success with book-to-movie deals based on unpublished and partial manuscripts. So much gets changed during the adaptation process and when the producer puts time into developing your work, it can make it finer in the early stages. It is also more lucrative for the author since the producers are directly buying the rights from the author.
As for Made In China, it was written many years back, in 2015. Since it was a dark comedy about an edgy topic, many publishers were of the opinion that the majority of readers may not have an appetite for it. It may have been ahead of its time. Conversations revolving around the book’s subject weren’t commonplace in the Indian society a few years back. So I put it on the backburner and worked on other projects.
Things are different now. The onset of streaming platforms markedly widened the choices that were available to audiences and pushed the envelope on experimental content. With movies like Badhaai Ho, Pad Man, Good Newwz, and the likes, the definition of what’s considered conversation-worthy in polite society has changed significantly.
I was introduced to a director in my hometown a few years back who was looking for unique stories. I narrated the story of my novel and he was interested. He and his team of writers then spent a few years adapting my book into a screenplay, adding popular Bollywood context and later, pitching it to producers. The book then got picked up for a screen adaptation. Then came the stellar star cast. It also brought along a publishing deal. And here we are now, in 2020, with both the book and the movie based on it released. I guess it was meant to be.
So you started working on this book in 2015. How much time did it take to write it?
I started writing it in 2015. The first time around, I wrote it over the course of a year and a half. Then I rewrote a lot of it in the past year. It’s natural for a person to evolve with time; I too have evolved in the years that have passed and the novel had to reflect that. The characters, their motivations and actions, the narrative and the language; all of it changed somewhat when I rewrote parts of it. So end to end, it took a little over two years. It was fun but not the easiest story to write.
What would you say is the main difference between “Made In China” and your previous books?
They’re all very different books across different genres. Live from London is a coming of age story about a young Indian pop star. Powerplay delves into the murky corporate politics of a fictional IPL team based in Gujarat. Made In China is a dark comedy. The common thread is how my protagonists get embroiled in tough situations and rise above their circumstances. Humour is another common element, I guess.
The book explores black-market trading in China. How did you go about researching for this book?
As for the research, a close friend of mine had lived and worked in China for over a decade. My husband also traveled there frequently for business. Via them, I was able to get some understanding of the trade shows that happen on a mega-scale, the service industry, the types of street foods, and cultural and general behavioral traits. Upon researching online about the illegal tiger trade, it became clear that this wasn’t restricted to China; multiple countries have tiger blood on their hands including India. Poaching the cats is on the rise because the demand is huge and the prices continue to skyrocket. Tigers are part of a massive wildlife trade that’s run by sophisticated international crime syndicates. That led to my awareness of the larger crisis around tigers. I learnt about NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) and the good work they’ve been doing to protect endangered cats. I reached out to a couple of animal activists online to get some insights. The novel is a comedy so a lot of it is imaginary as well. Overall, my hope is that the book will implicitly shed light on the plight of one of the most iconic and now endangered animals on earth. We, the people, can achieve anything if we put our hearts and souls into it, and I hope saving tigers becomes our collective goal.
Did you face any challenges while writing? If so, how did you overcome them?
The challenge stemmed primarily from the unfamiliarity with the subject. I picked it up on whim but spent a lot of time researching it. Regardless of it, when one explores a serious topic like black-market trade on foreign land, it becomes imperative to not only have the right information on hands but also to present it in an interesting fashion without it overpowering your story. Infusing humor into it is also easier said than done.
Was there a certain character, scene, or piece of dialogue in this book that you particularly enjoyed writing?
I really enjoyed writing the China bits. That section reads like a travelogue with plenty of unusual and colorful details and characters. I’ve done my best to evoke atmosphere since it’s the back-alleys, not places that one usually reads about. I also enjoyed detailing Raghu, the protagonist’s character, played by Rajkummar Rao. He and I are both from Gujarat.
Entrepreneurship is no less than a religion in Gujarat. Every child dreams of an enterprise. Every worker dreams of having his or her own business. Raghu’s land is a land of plenty. A land where enterprise is respected and risks honoured. Raghu is the epitome of Gujarati spirit…a spirit that is characterized by adventure, risk-taking ability, grit, gumption and enterprise. I have known him way before I wrote him. That’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did.
You have also co-written the screenplay for the movie. Screenwriting is certainly very different from plotting and writing a book. How was the experience like?
It’s taking the content from the source material and altering it to fit a different medium. Books are inherently different from movies. Books are wonderful because they allow the reader to be a part of the story; allow them to be the observers that have insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions, and all the nuances that create three-dimensional characters. There’s more detail, more focus on character development, and more depth. On the other hand, the great thing about movies is their ability to show, and the overall experience of watching one. Reading allows readers to create their own kaleidoscope and employ their imagination to make their own flights of fancy. Whereas movies are a look into the director’s interpretation of a writer’s creation; they immerse you into the story in a different way than a book, including music and visual effects. Both are potent in their own rights. I was initially heavily involved in the early parts when we were literally translating the book into a screenplay. I live in San Francisco and the rest of the team — the director, the second writer and the dialogue writer — is in India. They did a lot of the heavy lifting on the screenplay later on with all the additions.
And what have been the main differences between the book and its movie adaptation?
While the heart of the book and the movie are the same, additional characters and subplots were added to the movie. The movie is a drama, whereas my book is more of an internal and entrepreneurial journey and has a comical bent. Dialogues are another thing that are notably different in the movie as compared to the book.
According to you, what are things which writers should do — in the form of incorporating elements in the plot or in the book’s characters — if they think that their book has movie or TV potential?
I don’t think you can plan for it. As I explain above, books are inherently different from movies. Writing one while keeping the other in mind would mean you’ll not be able to do justice to either.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my next book; it’s a coming of age story. I’m also working on a screenplay.
Lastly, do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
- Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
- The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
- Solo by Rana Dasgupta
- Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
- Becoming by Michelle Obama