Indian Commercial Fiction Climbs Up the Popularity Ladder

Via The Telegraph

Would you like to read a homegrown Jeffrey Archer-esque political thriller? Well, you can soon follow the intrigues of three school friends-turned-politicians who vie to become the prime minister in Delhi Durbar, the first of a trilogy by investment banker-turned-writer K.P. Singh. The book’s being released by Hachette India, the Indian subsidiary of one of the world’s largest publishing houses.

Or would you rather unravel the mind of a female detective? Just get on the trail of Kasthuri Kumar as she tackles a Bollywood crime in Smita Jain’s Piggies on the Railway. Westland Books, the publishing arm of the Tata-backed Landmark Group, will release the first Kasthuri Kumar novel next year (it’s planned as a series). Or, if bodice-ripping historical romances — or rather ‘purdah- jharoka’ ones — are your thing, you can dip into the Kama Kahani series about princely lovers and feisty belles from Random House India.

Indian writing in English has turned over many pages in recent years. Now publishers and writers are bringing out every type of book possible from crime to sci-fi fantasy to romance to the graphic novel and even children’s literature. It’s not as if Indian writers never penned commercial fiction before. Manohar Mulgaonkar wrote crime in the 1950s and Penguin India published Shobhaa De and Ashok Banker 20 years ago. But this never developed into a body of work. That has changed ever since bestselling author Chetan Bhagat hit the scene.

“Perhaps we’re a more confident nation, and want to write commercial stories for Indians as much as the Booker. Maybe it’s also happening because publishing has become a bigger business,” says Chiki Sarkar, chief editor, Random House India.

Adds Ravi Singh, editor-in-chief, Penguin India, “It’s natural since more books are being published and there’s a greater variety of writers and more retail outlets too.”

The book lists are slowly expanding — and deepening. “New genres are being explored today,” says Abraham.
The fastest-growing genre is chicklit, with Kala’s Almost Single selling 50,000 copies. “Chicklit has come into its own the fastest because there’s a crystal clear audience for it,” says Abraham. Hachette released Faking It by Amrita Chowdhury this year. And coming up is Sangita Nair’s She’s A Jolly Good Fellow about women in the army.Meanwhile, publishers like Penguin and Westland are promoting radically new genres like the graphic novel.

Westland has released two graphic novels so far. Coming up is Lie by architect Gautam Bhatia. Renuka Chatterjee, chief editor, Westland says: “We’re interested in the graphic novel. Let’s say we’ve opened a window to the genre.”

Graphic novels aren’t selling in large numbers yet. Also, the writers are few like Penguin’s Sarnath Banerjee or HarperCollins’s Amruta Patil. But the space is opening up. “That’s becoming a well-defined genre. I think it will grow though it won’t become a huge segment,” says Penguin India’s Singh.Then, there’s the fantasy novel, which began with writers like Samit Basu and Ashok Banker from Penguin. There’s at least one fantasy novel published a year today. Zubaan did Payal Dhar’s Shadow in Eternity trilogy for young adults and Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet recently. HarperCollins is also publishing two fantasy novels next year.The publishers want to cater to the widest reading tastes possible. That means they aren’t ignoring the literary novel either.
Of course, the publishers face several challenges in developing the genres. For one, there’s the challenge of finding and developing writers. “I’d certainly like to see more good detective fiction and more humour too,” says Westland’s Chatterjee.Hachette’s Abraham believes bookstores need to penetrate to smaller towns and book prices need to increase too for the genres to develop. The publishers are confident that in time, these things will happen. For now, though, they’ve written the opening scene of the Great Indian Book Bazaar. The denouement remains to be seen.

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