Nasreen Khan

The setting is Kolkata. The time is late 1950s. A young and handsome Briton working in an insurance company meets an attractive American woman working for the US diplomatic service in India. With only the cursory “hello” there is no conversation though the man’s eyes keep travelling to this pretty woman. The couple meets again at Tolly Club over Independence Day dinner. He walks up to her and says, “It’s been a long time!” She replies, “Yeah, right!” and walks off with a huff typical of a heroine. He pursues her and by the end of the year they are married at the St Paul’s Cathedral.

The plot is so striking similar to a Mills & Boons (M&B) romance that you wonder why it did not get written about. “Well, it could be,” smiles Clare Somerville, general manager, India, UK, Mills & Boon, sharing the reason behind her visit to Kolkata. Her parents met and married here and Claire and her brother were born in this very city. Though they shifted when Claire was only three, the lady came back to capture her roots through the lens. And she clubbed it with her business interests as well. “The city has a long tradition of literature and India is a growing market for books,” she shares.

On the agenda is to have more Indian authors writing because worldwide the Indian female population is looking for romance from the Indian basket. With M&B selling in over 100 countries and 30 different languages there are chances that soon there will be some in Indian languages as well. A whopping 50 new books are launched every month.

Though they have been importing to India since 1950s the Indian company was launched only in 2008 and it is expanding rapidly. In fact the growth rate is more than double. The content too is evolving, reflecting the changes in the role of women today. And even though the story talks about the contemporary woman, the basic premise of the M&B romance has remained the same.

There are 14 new M&B books for India every month targeted at young working women with disposable income. This is unique to India alone. “Before marriage these young women get hooked to M&B so despite the lull for a few years when they are busy with the new environment they come back after some years. Marriage does not shatter the illusion,” laughs Claire. The reason she says is that in M&B you get very special exclusive relationship between the man and the woman. After marriage the Indian women crave more peaceful time with their partner so M&B fulfills the aspiration. “Single working women are the easy catch as far as our marketing strategy goes. It is followed by the younger generation. For them we would like to introduce the nocturnal and paranormal,” shared Manish Singh, country manager, Mills & Boon India.

Probably the only publishers who ask wannabe authors to submit manuscripts directly to them; M&B is in expansion mode. An Indian hero hasn’t made the mark yet. But the hero, be it an Englishman or a Sheikh has remained irresistible, rich and sexy.  “The kind we want to meet since we are three and we never grow out of it. That is why they are read by all from 18 to 80,” Claire laughs. The first book to be written by an Indian is going to be Love Asana by Milan Vohra which speaks of love conquering all in a yoga class. The release is awaited.

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