Author Tanuja Desai Hidier Writes Sequel To ‘Born Confused’

by Syeda Hasan

It’s been twelve years since author Tanuja Desai Hidier penned “Born Confused,” the breakthrough novel in young South Asian American literature. The book chronicled the exploits of Dimple Lala, a high school senior and ABCD – otherwise known as an American Born Confused Desi – a notorious nickname for first-generation South Asian Americans. Desai Hidier takes readers along on Dimple’s coming-of-age journey and her efforts to reconcile her Indian heritage with her American culture.

Without realizing it at the time, Desai Hidier wrote one of the pioneering novels in South Asian American literature.

I never really thought of it as breaking into a genre (probably luckily!). The focus was always on telling the story. For years I’d wanted to get the Indian American coming of age tale down on paper, something I’d been exploring in my short stories (and, of course, in my life). As an adult I’d begun to wonder what it might have been like to have grown up with characters on my bookshelves, on TV, on the movie screen—anywhere, really (as my family was the first South Asian one in our town, in fact)—who looked more like my family and me, with whom I could have a different kind of relatable experience.”

I suppose in some ways writing ‘Born Confused’ was my way, albeit years later, of addressing that lack (and of paying homage to the invigorating and inspiring South Asian arts/club scene that began to take off in the late 90s in New York).”

To buy either novel, visit Desai Hidier’s website.

In the much-awaited sequel, “Bombay Blues,” Dimple finds herself far from her home of New York City. She travels to Bombay with her family to attend her cousin’s wedding, but the trip ends up meaning much more than she anticipated. Desai Hidier says that landing in a new world disarmed and alarmed her characters, but it also allowed them to grow.

It’s one thing to mythologize a city,” Desai Hidier says. “It can be entirely another to actually inhabit it. For the characters in ‘Bombay Blues,’ the change in location shifts their sense of self, their habitual dynamics, and their perceptions of home and belonging. It’s not so much a matter of Bombay’s turning them into something else—rather, that the dislocation and disorientation that accompanies finding yourself on new ground can lead to an unmapping and remapping of aspects of who you are.”

Desai Hidier contemplated writing a sequel to “Born Confused” for several years. After a trip to Bombay in 2008, she felt the time was right. She had originally planned to continue Dimple’s story in New York City, but as she herself explored Bombay, the city where her mother and brother were born, the place her parents met, she began to create her own memories there.

Becoming a parent myself certainly crystallized my desire to learn this part of my own parents’ history better,” she explains. “I longed to forge a tangible connection to this metropolis of myth and memory.”

Desai Hidier knew the city was an ideal place to watch her characters learn and grow. “Bombay Blues” recounts Dimple’s humorous and heartwarming experiences as an American in India. By letting her characters lose themselves in a new land, Desai Hidier said she developed one of the main themes of the novel – “there’s no place like home…because home is not a place. Rather, it’s a sense sanctuary. It’s a direction. A swimming city.”

My characters surprised me, and it’s possible I surprised them, too,” Desai Hidier says. “It was a wonderful experience for me getting to know them all better, as well as meeting the new characters – like catching up with old friends.”

As well, during the writing of ‘Bombay Blues’ I came to learn how much Dimple has grown into her own not only as a photographer, but also in terms of her relationship with her own physicality, her sexual self.  And the ways in which these spaces conjoin. I didn’t realize before writing how willing she would be to embrace losing her way, dropping the map. To simply sink in and let the city get under her skin—and get under its own as well.”

Desai Hidier says she wrote “Born Confused” relatively quickly. She completed and revised the first draft within nine months. But putting together the final draft of “Bombay Blues” was a much lengthier process. She spent three years writing the book, including three trips back to Bombay to research it.

While some of the important themes Desai Hidier explored in “Born Confused” are love, sexuality and finding one’s identity across cultural boundaries, she says many of these themes are also a part of the sequel.

Another big theme in ‘Bombay Blues’ is following your heart–in art, in life (really, one and the same thing)—and what to do when that may pull you away from the people and places you love most…and draw you towards the untrodden terrain of other spaces. Other faces.”

As well, the ideas of the cycle–death and birth, zero and infinity, Shiva and Ganesha, destruction and creation–is a theme; that every new ending is an old beginning. Slam a door and a window flings open. A tide arrives as it leaves the land. Our tale begins every time it ends.”

In addition to writing, Desai Hidier took on a creative task no other author has attempted. Desai Hidier, a singer-songwriter as well as fiction writer, wrote what she calls a booktrack, an album of songs accompanying her novel.

Music is always in my mind,” she said. “It’s a huge part of both of my books, and it’s a huge part of my life.”

After writing “Born Confused,” Desai Hidier began writing songs inspired by the novel. Two years after it was published, she released “When We Were Twins,” an album based on “Born Confused.”

Click to purchase either “When We Were Twins” or “Bombay Spleen.” 

With “Bombay Spleen,” the booktrack for “Bombay Blues,” Desai Hidier wrote the songs as she penned the book. The album features her work with Atom Fellows and Marie Tueje, and is produced by NYC’s Dace Sharma.

‘Bombay Spleen’ draws from the themes of ‘Bombay Blues’–love, homecoming, cultural history, and the mapping and unmapping of identity— with the musical narrator’s personal journey paralleling the arc of Bombay’s development itself, from its beginnings as seven islands later reclaimed to become the city we know today. This journey also parallels Dimple’s metaphorical (and sometimes literal) one in the book: through landing, sink-and-swimming, back to dry land, finding the flow, and flight.”

For me, the book and accompanying album are part and parcel of the same project,” Desai Hidier says. “And it was a lovely balance to have these interludes where you’re musicating during the mostly silent, solitary novel-writing process—well, at least the outside. In your head it’s far from silent and solitary!”


Tanuja Desai HidierTanuja Desai 1 is a writer/singer-songwriter born and raised in the USA and now based in London. Her first novel, “Born Confused” —  the first-ever South Asian American coming of age novel — was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and became a landmark work. USA Today commended it as “compelling and witty…gives voice to a new generation of Americans…a rare and daring portrayal.” In starred reviews, Publishers Weekly praised it as “absorbing and intoxicating…sure to leave a lasting impression,” and Kirkus called it “a breathtaking experience. “Born Confused” was recently hailed by Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone as one of the best young adult novels of all time.

Its long-anticipated sequel, “Bombay Blues,” deemed “a journey worth making” in a starred Kirkus review, explores everything this generation faces today, with a heady mix of uncertainty and determination, despair and inspiration, haunting loss and revelatory love. Tanuja’s musical accompaniment to the sequel, her ‘booktrack’ album “Bombay Spleen“: Songs based on Tanuja Desai Hidier’s novel “Bombay Blues,” is out now worldwide on iTunes (physical CDs, complete with lyrics booklets, are available at; the first music video for the album will be released September 2014. Her first album — “When We Were Twins” (songs based on “Born Confused”) — was featured in Wired Magazine for being a first-ever ‘booktrack’; Wired deemed it “reminiscent of Alanis Morissette…[the music] reflects the clash of styles, sounds, and influences inherent to cultural assimilation and urban living.” For more information, please visit

Follow Tanuja Desai Hidier on Twitter and ‘Like’ her Facebook page. 

Syeda Hasan is a freelance journalist living between Houston, Texas and Karachi, Pakistan. She loves coffee, Bravo’s “Real Housewives” TV show, and all things French. She is a proud Texas Longhorn, and has previously reported for Houston Public Media, the Daily Texan and KUT News in Austin.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›

Redefining Manners: British Asian Priya Kansara Talks About her Latest Film ‘Polite Society’

Priya Kansara

Weddings, huh? Talk about a stress fest. And for the bride, it’s like a 24/7 walk on eggshells. However, add in a paranoid and overprotective sister, and you’ve got a recipe for a completely different degree of drama. In “Polite Society,” Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) and her gang of clumsy pals take the phrase “till death do us part” to a whole new level as they plot to “steal” the bride — aka Ria’s own sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), during her shaadi reception. But with a wedding hall packed with guests, a mother-in-law from hell, and a groom with more shades of fraud than a rainbow, this heist is anything but smooth sailing.

It goes without saying but “Polite Society” comes with a cast of wacky characters, gut-busting one-liners, and an action-packed heist sequence, making it a must-watch for anyone who loves a good comedy. I mean who hasn’t dealt with some serious wedding drama, am I right?

Lead actress Kansara agrees wholeheartedly. “I definitely have!” she chuckles, as I catch up with her at Soho Hotel in London. Despite the rubbish weather outside, Kansara is a ray of sunshine with her infectious enthusiasm.

The minute I read the script, I thought to myself…wow, playing Ria is going to be one wild ride!

[Read Related: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’]

And wild is definitely the right word to describe her character. Ria is a British-Pakistani martial artist-in-training from London, determined to become a professional stuntwoman. Her sister, Lena, who dropped out of uni, often ends up being the guinea pig for filming Ria’s stunts for YouTube, including one lovingly dubbed “the fury.” She reveals

I’d never done martial arts before this film. The stunt training started from the day I got the role, and it was three to four times a week all the way until we finished filming. It was a seven-week period in total, and boy, was it physically demanding. Oh my God, I think I can add a whole new skills section to my CV! But on a serious note, it was so much fun and we had an amazing stunt team. They, including my stunt double, taught me so much. It was important to me to do my own stunts as much as possible, but also strike a healthy balance.

For South Asian women, who are often expected to be quiet and agreeable, all that punching and kicking on set must have been cathartic, right?

Honestly, it was like anger management at work! I got to kick and throw things around — it was the perfect balance.


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What sets Kansara apart from other actors starting out in the industry is her ability to draw from her own life experiences to bring authenticity to her characters on screen. Her career began with a degree from UCL and a communications job at a pharmaceutical company. But today, her versatile range and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled her to the forefront of British comedy, portraying defiant South Asian women we’d love to see in real life.

From my own experience as a South Asian woman, I’ve always been told to do what’s ‘proper’ and think twice before speaking up. Playing a character like Ria and putting myself in her shoes, I felt like I was doing and saying things that I wish I had done at her age. It was almost like living through her and speaking my mind about things I never did.

Without a doubt, every South Asian woman on this planet wishes she cared more about herself and less about what other people think.

Ria totally inspired me. If only I had her mindset when I was younger, my career path would have taken off way sooner instead of worrying about other people’s opinions.

The chemistry between the cast members on and off-screen is so apparent, especially the sisterhood between Ria and Lena. The wild adventures of a bride, and her paranoid maid of honour navigating through family drama, are bound to create some unforgettable moments on set.

[Read Related: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’: A Modern-day Exploration of Love Across Cultures]

We both confess our love and admiration for Nimra Bucha’s portrayal of Raheela, Lena’s evil mother-in-law and share a teenage fangirling moment:

I’m obsessed with that woman. There’s something terrifying yet ultra sexy about her character in “Polite Society” that’s mesmerising. I absolutely loved the dance sequence. As South Asians, we’ve all grown up watching Bollywood films and idolising Madhuri Dixit’s iconic dance moves. “Polite Society” gave me my Bollywood heroine moment, and it was a dream come true with the costumes and jewellery.

It’s definitely a unique experience for Kansara, considering her former career was worlds apart from entertainment. So, what advice does she have for aspiring actors who may secretly wish to pursue the same path, but are unsure of the next steps? Kansara advises, drawing from her character’s heist-planning skills.

I believe starting small and honing your craft is an underrated superpower. If you’re passionate about acting, make short-form videos, and build your portfolio. You never know who might be watching.

So, grab your popcorn and your sense of humour, and get ready for “Polite Society” — the film that proves that sometimes, the most polite thing to do is kick some butt and save the day. It released in cinemas on April 28th, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures

By Queenie Shaikh

Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and … Read more ›

Anya Banerjee: The New Face of NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’

Anya Banerjee
Anya Banerjee

Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’sThe Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.

[Read Related: Sri Rao and the Future of South Asian Diasporic Cinema]

An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:

People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?

As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.

Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?

I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.


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What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?

Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of  the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.

How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?

Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.

How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?

Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that  I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.


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A post shared by Anya Banerjee (@anyabanerjee)

Are there certain roles you feel suit you better?

I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.

Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?

I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.

Is there a dream role you would want to play?

On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”

You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?

Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.

You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?

There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.

[Read Related: Manish Dayal on ‘The Resident’ & Telling Stories During and About a Pandemic]


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What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.

What is something not many people know about you?

I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?

Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!

Photo Courtesy of Ted Ely

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›