We at Bookaholicanonymous have been keeping a track of Milan Vohra’s work and new releases and had wanted to get an interview with her for a long time now. We are delighted we could finally get her to talk to us. She is India’s first Mills & Boon romance writer no doubt but she wears many hats and writes not just on romance but short stories on identity and issues too. This is one of our most heartfelt interviews. Do read you’ll enjoy.
About Milan Vohra: Milan Vohra is the author of four books. Her first, The Love Asana (Harlequin,2010) made her India’s first Mills & Boon author. Her second, a romcom, Tick-tock We’re 30, (Westland 2013) has been acquired by a biggie studio for screen adaptation. Our Song (HarperCollins, 2019) is a witty romance centred around music. Her latest book Head over Heels (Amazon Kindle, 2020) is about forgiveness and finding love. Milan also writes short stories. She has been published by Penguin, HarperCollins, Atta Galatta - in YA, women’s fiction and humour. Milan is a TEDx speaker and an awarded advertising professional. She has been creative director at India's leading advertising agencies. Milan also enjoys writing for publications like The Huffington Post, The Hindu, Cosmopolitan, Verve, New Indian Express - among others.
She is a big believer in doing what you love.
Why did you feel the need to rewrite The Love Asana as Head over Heels?
The Love Asana was my first book. I was still finding my way as a writer and I was writing within the Harlequin framework. It’s probably like anyone who writes for Disney. There’s an expectation that must be met. I did make The Love Asana my own, very much so, even then. Including writing strong, secondary characters that aren’t usually seen in Harlequin books. But now - I had complete freedom to shape every character as I wished. I was now also writing from a deeper understanding of romance fiction and with my own comfort and boundaries in writing, especially when it came to intimacy. Another important factor that made me decide to do this was that it had been 10 years since The Love Asana, the first Indian Mills & Boon was published. It was a huge bestseller but as is the marketing norm for Harlequin, most titles are taken off the shelves after a month or two. Their readers are used to subscribing and having a long new list of titles home-delivered every month. I was constantly asked by new readers where they could get their hands on The Love Asana.
I decided to use this period of the lockdown to get my rights back from the publisher and use this time to re-visit, re-publish and make The Love Asana accessible. After all, it’s a book that made history for generations of romance readers in India. In the spirit of this very difficult year, where most of us have lived our lives indoors in a pressure cooker environment - I wanted to make the book really accessible to readers. Because if there’s one thing a good romance can do is lift your spirits. That’s also why I decided to go with the self-publishing option, a first for me, and put the book up on Amazon Kindle platforms worldwide for a teeny weeny sum and on Kindle Unlimited for free.
What is new in this version?
Head over Heels is very now, in that the characters, their responses are very relevant to this point in time and in the post #MeToo era. They are stronger, there are more fireworks, as well as being more relatable to a reader in 2020. The heroine has more agency, pushes back a whole lot more, the hero is more reasonable, more responsible too. But of course human nature doesn’t change, nor does what makes for a romance you can’t stop reading. Head over heels is also a lot spicier, 4 chillies hot if you may, versus 2 chillies hot then. When I wrote The Love Asana my children were still teenagers then. I was treading cautiously; I didn’t want them to feel awkward at any time because of what their mum wrote. Especially, as the book was very much in the public eye. Now they are older. I don’t need to factor in their reactions, or restrain the intimacy that some scenes required. I ended up pushing my boundaries in writing those scenes, discovering not only that I could but that, hey it was actually doable and quite a lot of fun.
The main characters Vivan, Pari and Divyant are more etched out in 'Head over Heels', was that the main intention while writing this?
Thank you! And yes, absolutely. That was the intent and I’m glad it’s come through. The Pari in Head over Heels is no pushover even if caught in a difficult situation. She can push back and finds a way to hold her own - as a smart woman of today will. Vivan is less alpha, making his dialogues and responses more real; again, more the way we want a man to be today. I reworked Vivan’s back story a little too, especially the part about his sister’s death - to create spaces that allowed for redemption for Divyant. Head over Heels leaves the reader with more understanding (eventually) for both these men’s motivations.
Your characters in Our Song are so realistic, they are actually flawed, how did you get that? Are they inspired by real people?
Thank you again. I’m so glad you felt the connection. No, I don’t know anyone in real life like Ragini or Andrew or Anand Arya or Annie or Angel for that matter. The only resemblance between Ragini and a real person are some minor traits I have in common with her. Like - the helter skelter morning rush to reach anywhere on time. I did draw on one of my life’s learnings as a central theme for this book that comes from Ragini’s character - which is to stop waiting for someone else to stand up for you. Not your parents, spouse, children, friends, nor colleagues...You need to stand up for yourself. One more belief central to what has shaped Ragini comes from my own deep connection with music. Which is, ‘People leave. Even the good ones do. The music will stay.’
A creative soul and a corporate slave come together in Our Song as in Ragini and Andrew, which do you relate to more? Or know more about?
I guess I’ve walked in both those shoes, so I do know a fair bit about both. I’ve seen corporate environments from up close. I’ve spent as many sunrises though, working at an editing studio before a presentation, as much as I’ve stayed up nights writing in the zone - only to look up and find the sun has risen. I relate more to the creative soul of course. Even in my corporate avatar I have been on the creative side of things. I always have the option (if I want) to play the creative prima donna and sometimes I do. When people bore me especially with endless PPTs that go nowhere, I find myself having to pull out that creative person hat.
Did you have to do a fair bit of research on music before writing this novel? As Ragini mentions one raag for each emotion. Or you know music?
In another lifetime, I learnt music - mostly with breaks that were longer than the periods of learning. I even did my Sangeet Visharad from Allahabad, much after I was done with studies, as a young mum because my guru of the time, insisted I learn music both in theory and practice. That was so long ago. I hadn’t kept up with practicing music. But my background from back then did give me a framework on which to build. At least I knew what I was looking for when I researched the specific rasas or raags I needed to bring in.
Tick Tock We're 30 is a fun book, how did you come up with that plot. It's hilarious, and one can imagine something like this happening when a group of friends meet.
I grew up with a bunch of friends who are now scattered around the world. We talked forever of a reunion. It would always be hijacked by someone or other whose plans clashed. One fine day I decided I had enough. I would write a book about an old friends’ reunion that would make these lazy friends of mine so jealous, we’d have the reunion for real. It didn’t. We still can't get anyone to agree on a day or time slot for the occasional zoom call - because we need to magically work a time that suits everyone across 6 time zones!
But I had quite a blast creating a new set of characters who are now larger than life for me, for many readers and hopefully for a new lot of viewers. The book was acquired thanks to Siddharth Jain of TheStoryInk, one of the best minds and professionals in the industry. I was lucky he spotted the book at the Pune Lit Fest and picked it up. Years later, he remembered it and then made a perfect match between book and studio.
You have dealt with all in the book - professional hazards, obsessions with exes and little jealousies with friends. So is the book about friends or love?
It is primarily a book that revisits old friendships. People tend to glorify old friendships because of nostalgia and remember only the good times from back then. I wanted to imagine what happens when this large bunch of people meet after 10 years. Some of whom had hooked up right after college, some who still had old baggage and long held grudges, some who secretly still held a torch for someone in the group or even to see if it was possible to create newly discovered chemistry with someone you knew earlier but had no romantic interest in then. Tick-Tock We’re 30 is very much about real people, real emotions, angst, egos, insecurities as much about camaraderie and briefly reverting to who you were when you were that person in college. Romance is there in the story because, hey, it makes everything a little sweeter.
Now let's talk about your first book, the much talked about The Love Asana. How long did it take you to write it?
It took a year of going back and forth with the Harlequin editors in U.K about the plot. They were not really familiar with India or Indian sensibilities. I too had not really looked at romance from the point of view of writing it. Once we did that courtship dance, of learning, liking, understanding each other - the actual writing took me maybe four months.
Recount for us the time when you first came to know that you are the first Indian Mills & Boon writer.
It was at an event in Mumbai. I had been invited to come down to Mumbai as part of the top 10. I went there thinking I’d meet some friends in Mumbai, enjoy the view at Marine drive, where the event was being held. I had no expectations at all or even put too much thought to it. Next thing I knew there was a countdown to the top 5, prizes given to each, including a man who was a professor at an IIT who came in at 2nd place. Then when they read out my name and I went up on the floodlit stage, I had camera lights going off in my face. BBC and CNN mikes and almost all of it a big happy blur. I remember texting my husband and mother first. I don’t think I got away from the journalists around me for the first hour even to grab a drink and call my family.
Why have you chosen to write about love and romance?
I enjoy reading romance, especially contemporary, witty, realistic romance. If well written, it can be pure joy. I write what I enjoy reading and also believe in. But contrary to popular belief, romance isn’t all I write, or read for that matter :). I had actually written a lot of short stories before this that were (for the sake of brevity) maybe more literary, about identity, about issues that are important to me. Some of these in fact came out in an anthology sooner than the Mills & Boon was published. But by then I was well and truly associated with writing romance. I’ve continued to write both short stories and novels, in humour, Young Adult and grab any opportunity to give my short stories a home.
What to expect from you next?
Something quite different. (‘Kuch hatke hai’ as they said in the good old days of Bollywood cinema.)
Bookaholicanonymous is thankful to you for taking out the time for us. Now, waiting for your ‘hatke’ work! :)
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