Tag Archive: M&B

Mush ado about nothing






Men aren’t supposed to like reading romance. That’s the theory anyway… In reality, they do read Mills & Boon novels, but secretly, writes JAYA BISWAS



It was in a café at the Mumbai airport that I happened to witness this ‘rare’ sight. A tall, plump, middle-aged man engrossed in a Mills & Boon paperback novel titled, Take On Me. The book cover bore a picture of a scantily-clad woman on a beach about to be seduced by a man in swimming trunks. The man reading seemed to relish each and every page, completely oblivious of the fact that he was receiving quite a few odd stares from fellow passengers who were whiling away their time before the announcement for departure. He didn’t care. Perhaps, he was aware of the hypocrisy of other men, who read the same books, but publicly condemn them as ‘rubbish for women’.
Take them or leave them, but you certainly can’t ignore these romantic novels, which have been a part of most peoples’ lives. Hundreds of them stacked in libraries, heaped at roadside book stalls, laid out for second-hand sale on pavements, borrowed time and time again — especially in hostels, where the trick is for one girl to borrow the book and ten girls to finish it in the same night — Mills and Boon books are everywhere. Come on, we’ve all ogled the alluring covers depicting coy, docile heroines with tall, handsome men aching with desperation, anguish or lust, at some point or the other.
But is it only women who read these so-called mushy Mills & Boon (popularly M&B) love sagas? Or are men just as hooked? It is difficult to establish their popularity among men as most will never admit to reading M&Bs. Afsha Khan, a 26-year-old freelance writer from Mumbai, says, “Men are just too proud to admit that they don’t have the patience for descriptive text. They’re more into pictures. They would rather watch a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or a Pretty Woman than use their imagination. Maybe if M&B came up with a graphic novel with really good illustrations, chances are that they would fall for them.”
However Malay Desai, a college student has a reverse take on men reading mush. He says, “I’m yet to meet a man who owns up to reading M&Bs. Men claim it’s only women who read them because women have no qualms flaunting them. Comparing M&B to well-made films isn’t fair. Rather parallels can be drawn with Indian television’s great afternoon soap factory. Many men watch TVs soaps, but will never admit that they like them. Same with M&Bs. Maybe more men would come out in the open on this sensitive mental orientation if women gave them the assurance that reading mush isn’t ‘uncool’.”
Most men are still not confident of being in touch with their softer, feminine side. And certainly if they are of a more sensitive nature they would never admit it in front of their friends (particularly other men) afraid of being considered “girlie”.
Manish Singh, country manager, Harlequin Mills & Boon India Pvt Ltd, claims that the number of men who buy M&Bs compared to women is very low, “Though concrete data is not available, our research says that the percentage of male buyers is very small, and they normally buy it for others.”
Mr Gautam Jatia, CEO of Starmark echoes this, “Our male customers rarely ‘read’ M&Bs. Around 10 per cent of the total count buying M&Bs are men. However, we have noticed that men usually buy M&Bs as gift items.” 
 The Pregnancy Shock, The Sheikh’s Convenient Mistress, Taken by the Bad Boy, The Billionaire’s Bride of Vengeance, The Millionaire’s Ultimate Catch are some of the most sought-after M&B titles that women lap up till this day, even if it means masking them in brown covers or hiding them inside their study material.
 It is not just men who lie about their liking for M&Bs. There are even some women who claim they don’t read this basic form of chicklit as it is considered low-brow. Suranjana Nandi, a journalist working with a fashion magazine in Mumbai exclaims, “Women of all age groups read M&Bs. They may not admit it but they do. And this holds true for both single women as well as those with partners. The stories are single women’s dream, while those with partners want to know all that ‘could have been’. Therein lies the charm of reading these novels.”
 Interestingly, the reasons behind the popularity of M&B novels are astoundingly mottled. Bonny Ghose (Kolkata), a librarian by profession, cites an example, “Not only do I find young college-goers asking for M&Bs, my mother too is an avid reader and has always been so. However, she avoids the sexually-explicit ones. Mom would rather go for an easy-read formula story after a hard day’s work.”
Mr Jatia couldn’t agree more. He says, “M&Bs are a hit with readers for so many years because they make for quick read, easy connect and the
language is simple, making it convenient for occasional readers as well.”
 Recalls Afsha, “I read my first M&B when I was 13, in the dead of the night when everyone had fallen asleep.  As for why it is such a hit, I think these novels ‘immensely’ improve the vocabulary (pun intended!). My ability to describe things pictorially became increasingly better after my fifth title. Plus, it’s interesting to note how smartly they skirt around certain words. In this case, I’d say ‘reading is believing’.”
 It is no wonder that Harlequin Mills and Boon have grown to become one of the leading publishers of adult romantic fiction around the world for more than a century. There has been a remarkable change in reading habits too, especially in the last five years. Mr Singh reveals, “The readership has risen over the years. The books are available for various moods and cater to all age groups (from 16 to 60 years). The market for English language books has witnessed 10 per cent of yearly growth. Alternative format like e-books has also contributed to increase and change in the readership pattern. The data from other international markets where e-books are a rage, shows that readers are comfortable in downloading the titles and reading them either on PCs or hand-held devices.”
 Anuttama Banerjee, psychologist and consultant at Eastern Zonal Psychological Association (Kolkata), sums up the situation. She explains, “We are all victims of ‘labelling’ by the society. We grow up with certain notions, for example men are associated with qualities like assertiveness, machismo and fearlessness. They are considered to have a practical bent of mind, while women are generally expected to be submissive, docile, romantic and dreamy eyed. And there lies the dilemma. Moreover, it has been observed that men receive a lot of flak and get teased by their peer groups if they happen to exhibit soft emotions.”
Anuttama further adds, “Men have to try hard to match up to the standards set by the society. They prefer to keep it discreet, oblivious from public eye. On the other hand, women have the freedom to express their penchant for romance and no one objects. However, the fact that men read mush cannot be ruled out completely. If they can read women’s magazines, chances are that they read M&Bs too, maybe when their partners are done with them.”
 Girls, all you need to do is keep your eyes open!


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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