Mills & Boon Mumbai: A New Romance Market

Thanks to Michelle Styles: a report that Mills & Boon has opened an office in Mumbai, India, and has big plans: they promise “Indian settings and characters in the romances published from now on.”

I admit, I raised a brow at the NASCAR HQs, and at targeted attempts to market romance to a specific groups, but India? That’s a brilliant idea – most of Bollywood’s film production involves a star-crossed romance of one type or another, with intrigue, family machinations, or similar conflicts. According to Michelle, remaindered books have been selling in India for years, but now there will be new books set and featuring Indian characters. I hope some make it across to the US.


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    For the moment, though, they’re starting by selling the Modern (i.e. Harlequin Presents), Romance and Desire lines. The new M&B India website is also up.

  2. 2
    monimala says:

    Oh, my.  Guess what I’ll be hitting up my cousins for the next time one visits or one goes over!

    The thing is… how will they pull off the requisite secret babies when even kissing is pretty taboo?  Unless they market it as “adult” or “blue” fiction and you have to wrap it in newspaper like a paan and carry it out of a shop…

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    Muccamukk says:

    I read an article in the Independent about how “Chick Lit” was gaining popularity in India as educated women were buying more books. I guess the romance market picked up on that.

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    Tilly Greene says:

    Oh man, I hope they send them this was as well – I’d read them!  Love the flicks – the song and dance thing!  But, like momimala – not sure how they’ll be structured and sold.

    The few bookshops I went into didn’t carry romances, although a few of the hotels had “western” libraries where visitors left their books behind and they were full to the brim with them.

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    Anne Douglas says:

    Oooh, I might be in for a bit of that.

    Though not an all out Romance,more womens lit, has anyone else read the Hindi Bindi Club?

  6. 6

    I loved The Hindi Bindi Club.

    And I’m intrigued by M&B in India. It would be cool to see Indian characters in a traditional romance at my grocery store.

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    Sunita says:

    India has always been a good market for M&B.  The private lending libraries have tons of them, and you can buy new ones in many English bookshops. The private libraries are the best; they’re inexpensive to join and the selection in some of them is awesome.  Note that “private library” means storefront w/lots of well-thumbed paperbacks and DVD/videos.

    I don’t think M&B would have to change that much to set them in India; you can find prince/sheikh fantasies galore,not to mention large nosy families, marriages of convenience, and working women.  And you can stick the secret babies in the MoC storyline and you’re set.

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    Dragonette says:

    cool – i love bollywood!

  9. 9
    Teddy Pig says:

    Romance is officially dead – it was acquired in a hostile takeover by NASCAR and Harlequin.

    Why do I see Secret Baby & The DELL Customer Support Desk Manager?

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    Kaz Augustin says:

    Okay, I’ll go out on a limb here and firstly admit that I’m pretty thin-skinned when it comes to post-colonial matters.

    I’ve been searching the Intertubes for hours now and can’t find the &#$^&_!! statement from a Harlequin VP or somesuch that I thought so instructive at the time. As much as I applaud all the commentators here for being so open and cross-cultural (and I love Bollywood films as much as the next person), I have to say that that’s NOT what M&B have in mind.

    The M&B person from the reference that I can’t even find anymore (and I realise this weakens my case) was not interested in romances that were sensitive to Indian women. She was more interested in bringing **Western** ideas of romance to Indian women. That’s why I remembered the quote, if not the URL where I read it. All my brown-skinned shackles rose up in indignation.

    If you go to the Indian site and have a look at the books currently on offer, you’ll see such gems as “The Executive’s Surprise Baby”, “Spencer’s Forbidden Passion” and “One Night in his Bed”. People, this is not Indian-sympathetic prose. For those of you who may be thinking, “Well, they had to start somewhere”, Harlequin is a multi-BILLION dollar business. If anyone can wait and build up an Indian-centric stable, it’s them. The fact that they haven’t is telling, imo.

    My post-colonial sense is tingling, and it tells me that, while M&B are interested in cultivating Indian authors, those will only be Indian authors with the same mindset as their Western/North American authors. If M&B have already sold millions of Western cast-offs in India over the years (bad pun, I know), where is the motivation to change business models now? So the heroines will have dusky skin rather than be an English Rose. Big deal. In all other respects, they will be identical. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m willing to stand by this little bit of Cassandra-ing.

    Verification: respect36. Is your anti-spam psychic or something?

  11. 11
    Abney says:

    If M&B have already sold millions of Western cast-offs in India over the years (bad pun, I know), where is the motivation to change business models now? So the heroines will have dusky skin rather than be an English Rose. Big deal. In all other respects, they will be identical. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m willing to stand by this little bit of Cassandra-ing.[/font]

    But isn’t that what M&B does?

    When they launch an ethnic line like say targeted at Hispanic or African American are they giving you heroines who authentically come from their cultures.

    No… and I shudder to think what it would look like if they made the attempt.

    Or are they just providing you with the same cookie cutter arch types with different color skin and accents.

    I other words you get Black and Hispanic characters having secret babies with Greek tycoons… just as God intended.

    Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, because the truth is sometimes you want Oscar Myer Bologna with Kraft Cheese singles on white Wonder bread with a soupcon of Miracle Whip.

    You aren’t looking for originality or authenticity you are seeking out the consistent and the familiar.

    And that is what M&B provides you with comfort food that is understood by women the world over.

    M&B novels are like cigarettes for me… a habit I acquired when I was young and thought myself immortal and quit when I matured and knew that life was too short to go out like that.

    But there are those days when I just have to indulge the craving… and at least an M&B novel will only kill me a little spiritually not literally… so what’s it gonna hurt.

    That’s what they are good at, and to be honest I get kinda scared when they try to get gritty and realistic because the end result is horrible.

    Why should we deny the women of India the pleasure ~A

  12. 12
    Sunita says:

    I’m with Abney on this one.  This is HMB, not Virago Press goes to India. 

    And I’m not sure what skin color and colonial heritage has to do with this; it’s not as if HMB is somehow giving white Western women authentic, culturally appropriate novels and then foisting the same inauthentically on the ex-colonies.  Unless I missed a big chunk of World Civ, The Sheikh’s Captive Virgin [White] Bride has no natural home, culture-wise.

    Call it false consciousness or whatever, but lots of SoAsian girls and women like to read M&B and have been doing so for decades.  At least the middle-class English-literate ones have.  If HMB decided to put out a line in any Indian language, now THAT would be something to think about.

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    If HMB decided to put out a line in any Indian language, now THAT would be something to think about.

    Seriously, how cool would it be to read M&Bs written in Hindi?  Speaking as a looong-time student of the language, it could be the best instructional material EVER.  :D

    I don’t know how M&B are distrib’d in India, not having ever looked for them.  But if HMB is going to make this a proper operation, I’d guess the problem with Hindi-language M&Bs would be the challenge of forging a new distribution system and finding people willing to pay much more than Hindi fiction generally costs. 

    Distribution-wise, Crossword and other major bookstores don’t seem to stock much Hindi fiction (in my book-hunting experience, even in big cities like Delhi and Bombay, you’re lucky to find maybe twenty or thirty non-English-language novels on display, all with lovely paper and quality binding, all either classics (Premchand etc) or HUGE names (Amrita Pritam etc), and all for Rs. 200 and up).  Price-wise, the Hindi novels stocked by such bookstores are expensive compared to the Hindi novels available out on the street for Rs. 20-40 (with cheap paper and print that resembles newsprint in the way it smudges!).  Variety-wise, such bookstores can’t compete with the vendors on the sidewalk outside. 

    I figure the latter source is where a lot of the Hindi-language genre fans get their books (there, and at small-time, permanent book stalls).  But these aren’t the sorts of vendors HMB is going to want to cultivate, even if some of them (book stalls rather than sidewalk sales) are legitimate vendors.  They’d really have to create a whole new system, and before doing so, they’d first have to figure out why it is that there’s this ‘ghettoization,’ as it were, of Hindi fiction from English fiction.  I have a feeling you could write entire dissertations on the latter, though…

  14. 14
    monimala says:

    I think there’s absolutely a market for M&B-style cut-and-paste Indian characters into standard Western plot… but you have to be careful.  An example would be the film Salaam Namaste, which would be your run of the mill romantic comedy were it in English, but it flopped in India.  It was about two Indian singles living in Australia falling in love and getting pregnant and the guy having doubts. Very Nine Months, except that I’m not sure Hugh Grant’s character ever went “Kill it!” like the baby was a spider or a cockroach.  It was a case of a “modern” or “Amrikan” story absolutely not fitting the Indian characters, the sensibility, etc.

  15. 15
    Julia Quinn says:

    Wow.  In a bizarre coincidence, I am IN India right now.  I’ve only made it to one English language bookstore thus far—-Higginbotham’s Books in the Chennai airport.  (Actually, they carry English and Hindi.)

    Anyway, they had loads of M&B titles for sale.  They cost 99 rupees, which is about US$2.50.  Not so much in the way of romance otherwise—-Nora Roberts, Barbara Taylor Bradford (yes, I know she’s not romance, but that was where she was shelved), Danielle Steel.  The only historical romance was Georgette Heyer, Johanna Lindsey, and one book by Tracy Anne Warren (if you’re reading this—go Tracy!)

    I didn’t get anything as I already had reading material (heavier stuff, I’m afraid—In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward (I think) Luce—for obvious reasons.)

    I finished that one, tho, and so when I saw a collection of books at the lodge I was staying at on the Kabini river last night, I searched to see if there was anything interesting.  I found one Diana Palmer (alas, in Dutch), and a book published here in India which I grabbed and read—-it’s called A Chip Off the Old Blockhead by Rupa Galub, and it’s a YA, kind of in the Meg Cabot vein but in Delhi.  I still have a little left, but it’s been fascinating to get a feel for modern Indian (albeit certainly upper-middle class and English-speaking) life.

    Oh, and it was a secret baby story!

    Must go… my computer is about out of power.


  16. 16
    Ziggy says:

    Salaam Namaste is definitely a good example of Indian characters in a plot that’s basically Western in premise and, to some extent, execution.

    There’s obviously a currently burgeoning market for that kind of thing, so good for HMB for spotting that.

    I hope, though, that the novels don’t feel cut and paste, and that there’s an Indian vibe to them: that the plots don’t feel too out of place in Indian society, and you get a feel for characters who are Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi or Gujarati, rather than just generically “Indian”, which would be lazy and annoying to many readers.

    The main love story (about Lata) in Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” is a good example of this kind of thing. The story itself is pretty basic and you could adapt it to any culture. But the execution of it is so particulatised that you can’t imagine it taking place elsewhere, or with characters of a different nationality.

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