To date, India remains one of the few publishing markets where the bestselling authors in the romance genre are mostly male. Elsewhere in the world, and historically, female authors have taken the lead in the genre. But not in India.
Why is this so?
Indian romance fiction began to become popular thanks to two reasons — stories that younger audiences could relate to, and at prices lower than a plate of samosas in a multiplex. The former was the key. Readers wanted more and more stories where they could see themselves in the protagonists’ choices, which could be read in a language they could understand. The primary plot was more or less an extension of the same — a college-going guy has to woo someone while battling career and family pressures — but stories were served differently and intelligently to an audience devoid of such tales.
With Chetan Bhagat becoming a role model for commercial success, many Indian male writers aped the IITian trend of stories in the 2007-2010 phase. The successful authors in the genre today were published during this phase, giving them an early-mover’s advantage. Their subsequent books ensured they gathered a big enough following, largely led by the fairer sex. And they were all male.
The answer to male writers’ popularity in the genre lies in our culture. We still thrive in an environment where marrying a person of your choice raises eyebrows, and discussions around sex are considered a perverse indulgence. This is even more so for women, for whom, in addition to the above, adjustment is taught to be a way of life, even with the person you end up marrying. Also, for women to get a glimpse of the male psyche in India, where the masses live outside the metros, is a tough nut to chew upon. In such a scenario, romance stories came across as an ideal catharsis, giving its readers an ideal life they would dream of through the protagonist’s eyes.
Romance has always been considered a woman’s genre, whether it came down to reading it or writing it. Back when I was a child, I had accidentally unearthed my aunt’s hidden stash of Mills & Boons in my quest for a lost toy. But in India, women readers seemed to desire the ‘male perspective’, and it’s what they got through romances written by men. I still remember an email from a female reader asking me where she could find a guy like Rahul Kapoor, the protagonist of my debut novel, Truly Madly Deeply. ‘Only between the pages of my books,’ I cheekily replied.
On a serious note, though, I wanted to tell her to keep looking and let me know once she did. Women read romances with the hope that some day their dashing prince might come to their doorstep and sweep them off their feet. Howsoever boring and bland their prince charming might be in real life (if he exists), they equate him with an almost-too-perfect image of the guy in their mind. Somewhere down the line, the books dished out exactly this desire in a language that communicated with the masses.
Strangely though, some romances from male writers never had a ‘happily ever after’; stranger is the fact that this ended up working in the books’ favour. ‘Tearjerkers’ brought out emotions with an intensity readers couldn’t hold back; that most of these stories were derived from real-life stories made readers connect with the writers at a deeper emotional level.
Male writers of romances rule the charts not just because they are in sync with readers, but also because they are role models to this generation; their characters reflect the undergoing change in Indian society, and the aspirations of their readers. It could be them!
Or it could simply be something as uncomplicated as good writing. A journalist who was interviewing me once asked a female reader at a bookstore who her favourite writer was.
“Faraaz Kazi,” the young lady blurted out.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because he writes well,” came the reply.