The Weekend Leader - Going Bollywood way

Mills & Boon adopts Bollywood formula to woo Indian audience

Madhusree Chatterjee   |   New Delhi


Vol 2 | Issue 51

The world's oldest series of romantic fiction, Harlequin Mills & Boon, has broken the cultural barrier to publish its first "made-in-India-with-Indian faces" book after inducting its first writer from the country last year.

The book, "His Monsoon Bride" by Astha Atray, features Indian models Simran Sachdeva, Nupur Mehta and Bhanujeet Sudan on the cover for the first time. They were chosen in a model hunt contest judged by three leading names in the industry this year.

The new 'desi' Mills & Boon novel, "His Monsoon Bride" released in India recently

"Mills & Boon now has four Indian models - two men and two women - on board for the covers of the subsequent books," said Harlequin Mills & Boon India country manager Manish Singh.

The publishing giant - which has been catering to women readers between 16 and 60 years since it was founded in 1908 - launched its first Indian author, Milan Vohra, last year with the book, "The Love Asana".

Vohra was the winner of the Passions writing competition in 2009. This week, the publishing house launched its second Indian writer Atray, a journalist, who made the cut in 2010.

"We are working with two more authors - Soma Narayanan and Poonam Dabas - the runners-up of last year's writing competition.

"Narayanan's book will be in stores by February-March and Poonam's book will follow a couple of months later," Singh said.

The Britain-based Mills & Boon, which was acquired by the Canada-based Harlequin Enterprises in 1971, currently has a database of 1,300 writers worldwide, he said.

The publishing house was founded by Gerald Rusgrove Mills and Charles Boon as a general fiction publisher which started with a romance. By 1930, the publishers realised that romances were doing well - and decided to concentrate on romances.

It has a dozen imprints, including the modern, desire, historical, medical, special moments, intrigue and nocturn (paranormal) romances.

In India, a single edition is priced at Rs.125 across the imprints, Singh said.

Atray's book - which is redolent with the flavours of Bollywood - is set in Mumbai.

"It is about a journalist - a rich man's daughter - in Mumbai who chooses to travel by train. The hero is a self-made millionaire in modern Mumbai who has lived in Dharavi as a child," said Atray, who has lived in Mumbai for six years.

The two, Amrita and Mehtab, enter into a marriage of convenience - but soon find themselves drawn to each other.

"In our country, the Mills & Boon formula has been replicated in Bollywood movies forever. My hero is tall, dark and handsome - and pretty flawed," the writer said.

Atray, who entered the Passions writing contest by submitting her 3,000-word story five years before deadline, had to expand her story to 40,000 words for a 192-page novel after winning the contest.

Atray's sensibility is Indian.

"I was inspired by my own marriage. My character, Amrita, (the lady light) in the book is a gorgeous curvy girl like any Indian woman who does not bother about weight. We are so obsessed with weight - the fashion magazines talk about size zero. But I am a normal person and I wanted the character to be very Indian," said Atray.

The writer said she has "tried to show a Mumbai that she sees every day - the normal people and their problems".

"Writers don't write about you and me any more - they either write about slumdog India or NRI India. I wanted to write about the India which is now," Atray said.

Structuring the book was painstaking. Atray spent months with her editors at Harlequin who told her to "sketch the characters in the first three chapters - their childhood, origins, their growing up years and how they would relate to their parents".

"Only then could we decide how the heroine would respond to the man. It was a crash course at writing," she said.

Atray's book follows a pattern set by Vohra in whose book, "The Love Asana", the romance was themed around a trophy wedding between a fitness magnate and a yoga instructor.

"I did not say no to sex in my book, it is natural even in the Indian context," Atray said.

Mills & Boon, which has doubled its sales in India, is also branding itself in Bollywood by promoting movies like "I Hate Luv Storys" and "Jhootha Hi Sahi", its country manager said. - IANS

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