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.
Weâ€™ve seen the special sections in large bookshops, shelves aching with romantic desperation, anguish and fulfillment. Weâ€™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. â€œWe had some idea about this market, but we never really followed it up,â€ admits Go. â€œAt the Frankfurt Book Fair, we would meet Indian distributors who would offer to take on consignments and we never bothered beyond that.â€ (link)
Interestingly, Harlequin is finding that Indian men are just about as likely to be Mills and Boon fans as women:
What he wasnâ€™t expecting were the men, â€œA substantial percentage of Mills & Boon readership in India is male! You donâ€™t see that in other markets.â€ Go has speculations on why this is the case. Perhaps itâ€™s just the sheer ubiquity of M&B novels, â€œTheir sisters and mothers are reading them and since they are lying around the men read them too.â€ (link)
(Come on, desi guys — I know you’ve read a few of these. MoorNam? Floridian? Now is the time to come clean.)
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 (desi-oriented) 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)