Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Indian Men Dig Mills & Boon Too

Via the Literary Saloon, an article in the Economic Times on the upcoming formal distribution of Harlequin Mills & Boon romance novels in India. These novels have of course been available in South Asia for many years -- but mostly via redistribution and consignment. It's only now that Harlequin is planning to start distributing its books in India directly:

For most Indian readers, it will come as a surprise that M&B was never actually distributed in India. The novels have been so much a part of our lives, stacked in the hundreds in circulating libraries, borrowed dozens at a time by women (especially in hostels, where the trick was for one girl to borrow them and ten to read them the same night), laid out for sale second hand on pavements.

We’ve seen the special sections in large bookshops, shelves aching with romantic desperation, anguish and fulfillment. We’ve fantasised about the busty heroines and tall dark handsome heroes on the covers. We knew about all the different varieties of novels: nurses, Regency, exotic settings and so on. And exactly how we knew all this we would never say since like most people we would never admit to reading M&B.

But all of this was achieved with Harlequin ever selling directly. “We had some idea about this market, but we never really followed it up,” admits Go. “At the Frankfurt Book Fair, we would meet Indian distributors who would offer to take on consignments and we never bothered beyond that.” (link)

Interestingly, Harlequin is finding that Indian men are just about as likely to be Mills and Boon fans as women:

What he wasn’t expecting were the men, “A substantial percentage of Mills & Boon readership in India is male! You don’t see that in other markets.” Go has speculations on why this is the case. Perhaps it’s just the sheer ubiquity of M&B novels, “Their sisters and mothers are reading them and since they are lying around the men read them too.” (link)

Finally, the author of the piece asks an obvious question on my mind from the start -- what about the desi version:

But the interesting question is whether, as with FMCG products, M&B will see the need to Indianise their offering. When even a Kentucky Fried Chicken has to offer a chicken curry thali to survive in India, will M&B be able to continue with its offering of Western-oriented romance fiction? Or is this sort of escapist fiction exactly its appeal? (link)

("Tall, dark, and handsome" might have to become "fair and handsome" in the Indian context. And maybe they could still use Fabio on the cover, only with Shah Rukh Khan's hair style?)

Incidentally, I have long wanted to write my own pulpy romance novel to make some quick cash, but I've been starved for a good, India-themed plot. Can anyone suggest a good scenario for me to use, as I attempt to enter the world of trash fiction popular romantic fare? (The best I can think of right now is an Indian version of this plot. Hopefully I can come up with a better title than "The Rancher's Doorstep Baby," however)



OpenID therealpotato.com said...

Heh. My friend and I decided to do this for fun in high school, and wrote a couple of insanely over-the-top chapters. Good times.

You can probably rip a plot from just about any movie-- where you'll really need your creativity is in coming up with ever-more-colorful (and possibly Indianized) euphemisms for sex!

4:29 PM  
Blogger Rachit Chandra said...

@therealpotato.com : Touche

Well, I guess an IITian thrown might keep your book in top sellers, with the inane Five Point Someone still ruling hearts and charts here :P

7:24 PM  
Blogger scritic said...

Amardeep: Incidentally, I have long wanted to write my own pulpy romance novel to make some quick cash

realpotato.com: My friend and I decided to do this for fun in high school, and wrote a couple of insanely over-the-top chapters. Good times.

I once made a bet with a (female) friend of mine that I could write a small M&B-like novella (complete with the sex euphemisms) for 50 bucks. (It all started over a discussion of the way M&B novels are mass-produced).

I guess lots of people have been there!! :-)

9:12 PM  
Anonymous apu said...

Amardeep, perhaps you could throw in a rich-girl-meets-poor-boy or twins-separated-at-birth angle ? :)

12:01 AM  
Anonymous ana said...

. . .or maybe a desi pygmalion but with a woman being the 'enry 'iggins character. It could still work, I suppose, within the frame of a standard M & B. I used to read these a lot between the ages of 13 and 18. Thought about writing for them as well. . . :)

11:52 AM  
Anonymous narayan said...

"Writing d.b.'s (dirty books) was generally considered a useful professional exercise, as well as a necessary participation in the common fight against the Square World -- an act of duty." -- Maurice Girodias

I remember the Sunday in the mid-50s when my father took us to Sanyal's book store in Bistupur and there were no more Classics Illustrated comics to be had. At the general store next to Sanyal's we were told, "no more Kellogg's corn flakes", nor any cheese. Thereafter, it was odd-tasting, limp Indian corn flakes, and no cheese until the rise of the dairy cooperative movement that gave us Amul.
The restrictions on import of non-essentials meant that, except in the large cities, it was hard to buy "good" books. The obverse effect was that India became a dumping ground for the junk books of the West -- the unsalable and the overstocked. In the major cities there was access to the USIS, the British Council and college libraries for serious and current books. But bookstores, private clubs and neighborhood lending libraries were mostly stocked with racy (Robbins/Sheldon/etc.) and adventure (Maclean etc.) novels. Yes, we did pass around copies of "Lady Chatterly's Lover", "Lolita" and "Ulysses" in high school -- but only for the dog-eared dirty parts. I dont recall any bodice rippers from the sixties; perhaps they became popular later.
Later, in our cloistered college dorms, attention turned to the real thing - pornography. The name Midwood came to stand for explicit sexual material from the US. Classical pornography originated from Olympia Press, Grove Press (paperbacks with plain green covers), and others (Shakespeare & Co ???), a group of publishers that brought out the banned books of the likes of Donleavy, Nabokov, Lawrence, Durrell, Nin and Miller, besides the down-to-earth writers of London and Paris with imaginative pen-names. (Vestiges of these houses exist even today.) Indian pornography came in Hindi (Kok Shastra ???) which we all read, and Marathi porn magazines (faktah pravdha saathi = strictly for adults ???) which the Marathi-phones read aloud and translated to us in groups.
Censorship in India took a more rigid form than anything in the West and drove all underground. In Delhi and port cities there was a significant stock of dirty books brought in by sailors and foreigners, and those of the upper middle class who were au courant had no difficulty getting the latest material. A classmate's mother once greeted me with. "oh, your'e the boy who stole my copy of 'Candy'!". A hostel-mate, a romeo of the Delhi diplomatic set, kept us supplied with Playboys.
Once you've tasted the forbidden fruit ... I can't imagine a person who would be turned on by romance novels.
I read in '06 that Sharmila Tagore, who is a member of the Board of Censors (I think), is in favor of opening Indian TV to adult/sexual material. If and when that day comes, which Indian kanjoos would put out real money for books that aspire to titillation interruptus? Of course, there is no disputing taste, nor the Indian penchant for "phoren".

1:37 PM  
Anonymous narayan said...

Amardeep : In your search for plot, setting and content, you might want to seek out a pondy titled "The Hot Mahatma". Sounds like it might have an Indian theme :

I forgot to say in my previous comment that "pondy" was the generic term for dirty book. Its etymology remains a mystery to me.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amardeep -

If you are interested in writing a romance novel, please let me know at sambrstrn@yahoo.com. I can provide you with a plot outline, and would love to work with you.

9:43 PM  
Blogger anita & amit said...

Stumbled across your blog looking for information on Mills and Boon novellas. I have a strange request - if you or any of your readers could help me...
I am working on a BBC4 documentary on romantic literature. They have asked me to film an interview with the new bosses of M&B India. Would you know anyone who could help me in finding a book reading club/fan club in Mumbai which has regular gatherings/readings of M&B novellas?
Apparently there is one in Delhi..but I need one in Mumbai.
As a kid I used to snigger at the countless novellas with steamy covers lying around the house(I had three sisters!). And now I have to find M&B readers! Duniya gol hai I guess!
Amit ( aniamit@gmail.com)

4:16 AM  

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