Back in the 1970s and 1980s romance was synonymous with Mills & Boon novels and Hindi movies. Both were escapist, told happily ever after stories and were regarded as guilty pleasures. Those were the days when Valentine’s Day celebrations were unheard of in India and teenaged girls read M&Bs on the sly!
Has the Indian environment for romance novels changed? Do young women still enjoy reading stories about tall-dark-handsome heroes sweeping away nubile, young women into Happily Ever After Land? Do guys read romance novels? What do women (and men) want when it comes to a romance novel?
Post-publication of my debut Mills & Boon novel, The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal, I have gained a bit of insight on this which I would love to share with all of you.
Guys read romances too! Imagine my surprise when I learnt that not only do men write romances — Durjoy Datta and Ravinder Singh are just two among the best selling Indian authors of romances — but they read romance novels too. Gone are the days when guys would steal their sisters’ or girlfriends’ M&Bs to take a quick peek at the “salacious” bits! A friend told me that as a teenager he would steal his cousin’s M&Bs, mark out the steamy paras and circulate the book among his male friends!
What makes a Hero irresistible? In the old days the Hero had to be Tall Dark and Handsome and an Alpha Male. The TDH bit still applies but it seems like women today prefer their heroes a bit more sensitive. This is what one reader had to say about my novel’s Hero: “Krish is the ultimate New Age Hero. He reflects the new man in urban India – casually confident, charmingly vulnerable and ready to break out on his own.”
Another reader, Rekha, not only read my book but sent me a very thought-provoking email. She wrote: “I found one aspect of your book quite striking. When I read M&B years ago I remember wondering on and off what the hero’s thoughts and feelings were since they were invariably revealed only in the last few pages. The reader was expected to identify so completely with the heroine and all her insecurities and uncertainties (in relation to her emotions vis-a-vis the hero) that I remember wishing then that I was told a bit more about how the hero felt. In contrast, in your book, I got to know quite a bit about the hero’s thought process. But this knowledge had the contrary effect of reducing the “mystique” of the hero. He was no longer the formidable, strong and silent figure. I was therefore struck by the insight that the allure of the M&B heroes lies in knowing so little about them! What the reader knows about the hero is only what is made available from the point of view of the heroine. In your book on the other hand the reader gets to know the hero almost as well as the heroine. This approach of course rendered Krish much more human and sensible but then he no longer seemed to me like an M&B hero!”
Readers seek out strong Heroines with interesting job profiles and Indian values A young working woman from Mumbai, and a die-hard romance reader, had this to say about Krish and Maya’s careers. “I do not remember ever having read about a management consultant or a landscape designer (Maya’s profession) in any romance novel! Krish is a charmer, as is, but the management consultant part totally had me awed! Maybe it’s just my management background. LOL. And of course, a nature-lover has to love a landscape designer – so bingo!”
A school teacher and mom said she loved Maya because she was feisty: “I instantly fell in love with the headstrong Maya Shome and loved that she didn’t play a typical ‘damsel in distress’ as our Indian heroines are sometimes depicted to be.”
Dolly, a Mumbai-based professional who confessed to me that she doesn’t have the time to read said: “Your book had all the elements of a classic M&B along with Indian values and just the right amount of Bengali-ness. Thankfully, the heroine was a powerful character who may have ached for her lover but was not dying of hunger!”
Happily ever after but with a dash of spice! Another reader said that while she knew the story would end happily she was glad that it gave her an insight into the kind of married life that they would lead. That was indeed intriguing because this reader was actually visualizing life beyond the HEA! She said, “I love it when a couple seems like they’re in for a more interesting future than just lovey-dovey home life; it seems like a safe bet that Krish and Maya will continue to have all kinds of excitement in their lives.”
It was fascinating to know how readers reacted to the characters in my book and it would be great if you could share your thoughts here. Do you think that there is more to a romance novel than Happily Ever After? Do you feel that Indian M&Bs have added a new dimension to the genre? Look forward to your comments.
Note: An interesting piece on what readers consider romantic vs what goes for romance in a book.