Ila, a Mumbai-based teenager, is going nuts with Veena, her controlling, single mother who prevents her from stalking her pop idol, Ali Zafar. Veena wants her daughter to date real guys in the lead-up to finding a husband. But Ila decides that the only way to get her mom off her back is by finding her a boyfriend instead. With the help of her best friend Deepali, her crush Dev and her mother’s best friend Maleeka, they will come up with a plan to make it happen by setting up a profile in dating apps.
This interview has to start off with this question. In your book you make a reference to George Michael, how did you come up with this idea?
In my book, I make reference to George Michael of Wham, the famous English pop singer who I was desperately in love with in my teen years. And I know that I speak for just about every woman who grew up in the 80s! The George Michael anecdote is taken directly from my life – I stalked him in my teen years, and in mind you in those days there was no such thing as social media, cell phone – smart or dumb or the internet. So the fact that I traveled from Mumbai to London one summer and tracked him down is a real life example of investigative research that I take great pride in!
I guess here is the story – a year or two before I wrote the book, I was chatting with my brother’s friend at a party and somehow, we got talking about the whole George Michael episode. The guy listened with rapt amazement as I gave him the details of how I stalked the pop star through his cat. He said to me ‘That would make a great chick flick, you know!’
I was intrigued but know nothing about film so decided to turn it into YA chick-lit instead!
There are many books out there about the life of women in India, Mumbai in this case….What makes yours different?
Oh my goodness, do you like to laugh? If so then Operation Mom will hit your funny bone. I think that many of us Indians take ourselves too seriously and cliched as it sounds, laughter really is medicine for your mind-body. The BBC has done huge amounts of research on how it helps the aging process, supports fitness and keeps couples together. But this book is not simply about LOL moments, it’s about LOL moments in the Bombay context — it offers a real window into the trials and tribulations of the feisty Punjai woman in Bombay.
And then there is that whole element of predictability and safety in India. You don’t find stories where the daughter is setting the mother up – usually it happens the other way around. You don’t find stories which expose you to a variety of ethnic situations strewn around Mumbai – all ripe for comedic interpretation. That’s what I wanted to do. As a Mumbaikar…or a Bombay-ite, I feel like I have many affinities – to the Punjabi way of life, to the Parsi community, to places like Swati Snacks and Worli Seaface…these all found their way into my book.
How did you do research for your book?
Having grown up in Mumbai, the research was easy. I knew the places I wanted to set the story in. I knew what they were about and the kind of crazy character chaos that I would find in those locations. Of course, this being a YA book, me now being a full-fledged adult (at least in size if not maturity levels), I knew I had to be up with the ‘method of madness’ of the current Mumbai young adult. So I had huge amounts of fun talking to my school going nephew and his friends to learning the lingo, compare the mindset from my time to theirs and quickly adapt to the change. Then of course I had fun taking long bus rides through town and hanging out at places like Swati Snacks and Kalaghoda Cafe (locations referred to in the story) to people watch and eavesdrop on conversations. Research is really one of the most fun parts of creating a story.
In your book you seem to look at relationships between flawed characters….why is that?
In my book I talk about relationships among flawed characters because isn’t this who we are and what makes us tick? I capture the sometimes-difficult relationship between mother and daughter, friend and friend, husband and wife, and boy and girl. My exploration is that of coming of age in a world filled with imperfect people. I aim to be both humorous and heartfelt, and from beginning to end, I resist any attempt to apply makeup to innocence, or hide the stubbornness or intelligence of my characters.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?
Another hard one. While in many ways I myself identify with the plight of Ila and her mom, Veena, it’s hard not to fall in love with the wild and wacky Aunty Maleeka or Deepali. They are the very antithesis of the classic Punjabi woman and in many ways they are who Veena and Ila live vicariously through. Truth is, I think we all need a bit of Aunty Maleeka or Deepali in our lives!
Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?
Oof, this is hard to say. Ila and Veena (mother and daughter) are essentially the same woman in two different generational bodies. So when I look at the zany women in my own household, Yours Truly in particular, it isn’t hard to come up with traits and quirks that easily define these main characters. As to the hardest character again…there has been.
How are you similar to or different from your lead character?
Like I alluded to earlier, in many ways I identify with the plight of Ila and her mom, Veena. Both of these characters are essentially the same woman in two different bodies. When I look at them, I see aspects of my teenage self and my adult self. My traits ring through in both — obsessiveness, zest for life, indomitable free spirit, my insecurities….oh yes!
What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?
I am not sure about the book but there is plenty I have to cut from the screenplay…like the whole flamenco dance class scene.
What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
Readers tell me that they can totally identify with my characters even if they are from a different culture. This makes me happy 😊
Also Chanticleer Reviews said: “This book will have you laughing out loud. It will keep you reading into the night to see what life has in store for these lovable characters who leap off the page and capture your heart and your imagination. Reenita Malhotra Hora’s novel, Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life and a Man, is a highly recommended and delightful five-star read.”
This made me happy too 😊
Which authors inspired you to write?
Oh goodness! So many!
As a child – Enid Blyton. Not the choice of children’s author for anyone who has been a child since I became an adult!
As a child and an adult – Lewis Carrol, Gerald Durrell, Eric Segal
As an adult – David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Andrew Ross Sorkin.Walter Isaacson, and of course the inimitable JK Rowling.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
1980s. Bombay to relive my teens and London to see George Michael 😊
What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?
Duran Duran’s – Wild Boys. I just saw them in concert, that’s why.
Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
George Michael of course!!!!
What is your next project?
Oof, which one?! As far as books and stories go, I would say Shadow Realm – Part 1 & 2 of the Arya Chronicles series. This is a YA fantasy fiction story. Part 1 is already out as an audio series which you can check out here: www.thearyachronicles.com/podcast. We are currently in production for Season 2 which will launch in Spring 2023. The print book version of Shadow Realm will be next as far as books go, followed hopefully soon thereafter by a graphic novel.
I also have a historical fiction novel in the works – Playtime at the Bagh and Ace of Blades, the “Succession-like” memoirs of my later father, RK.Malhotra, the dynamic creator of India’s home-grown shaving products industry.
Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life… and a Man is available at
Reenita Malhotra Hora is a founder, executive-level content, operations & marketing leader, and prolific writer. With multiple years of experience in media, entertainment, communications, tech/innovation and wellness industries in the USA and Asia, she grows organizations, ranging from early stage startups through mid-size businesses, through storytelling, creative marketing and business strategy.
Reenita has written seven books – five non fiction and two fiction. She is the writer, anchor and executive producer of Shadow Realm and True Fiction Project podcasts and founder of the Chapter by episode fiction app. She has contributed to The Hindu, South China Morning Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, Asian Investor, Times of India, National Geographic Kids, Cartoon Network Asia, Disney, and more.
© 2014-2022- Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.