Brutally sidelined by critics, made fun of by several headline authors and even rejected for its 'average and below-average' standard of writing, the continued rise of popular fiction in India is a story of optimism against an elitist point of view.
While there can be no denying the fact that all books, particularly fiction, must maintain a high literary standard, it is also true that the Indian readership in English is in its infancy. With a 74.04 percent literacy rate on paper, a large chunk of the population cannot read and write, and for even those who can read and understand English, books of high literary standards are not always the first choice.
The role of popular fiction is thus very significant in the Indian context. The rise of authors like Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Dutta are case studies which provide sufficient reasons to believe that there is a much greater demand for such books than those of high literary standards.
Another significant aspect of popular fiction is the fact that it helps create first-time readers. A larger portion of the hundreds of thousands of readers of Chetan Bhagat, studies have shown, were first-time readers, who gradually moved on to read the next level of books.
"It is a continuing process, you see," says bestselling thriller writer Ravi Subramanian. "Once a first-time reader finishes a simply written, romantic or, you know, a story that he can relate to, he is elevated to the next level. It is not going to be the end, but a mere beginning of his tryst with reading."
As monsoon sets in, it's raining romances for readers of popular fiction as four promising titles that may soon land up in the bestseller lists have already hit the stands.
The protagonist of the first novel What Kitty Did (HarperCollins/Rs 299/306 pages) by Trisha Bora has more troubles than she can count on her fingers. "Her love life is wonky, her paycheck is shit. She has badly behaved hair and struggles with a sugar addiction. To top it off, her pushy mother has set her up with a gorgeous but stuck-up guy who is sending her mixed signals," mentions the summary of the book.
When a diplomat's celebrity wife Roxy Merchant falls dead during dinner at their posh central Delhi bungalow, Kitty's boss gives her a chance to write a profile piece and the hint of a promotion. She's on to something big, and it can, perhaps, change her current life forever. But Kitty also has a knack for bungling things up.
The second novel No Strings Attached by Sheila Kumar (Harlequin/ Rs 199/ 182 pages) is about Samar Pratap Singh and Nina Sabharwal, who can't seem to keep their hands off each other. Yet, they don't quite trust each other either: He thinks she's eyeing bigger fish; she's convinced he's a heart-breaker.
Both of them have decided that falling in love is simply not an option—no strings attached is how they roll. Only, the fact that they have to see each other at work every day makes situations stickier and the more their lives become intertwined, the more they realise that love—a real and lasting love—is just a leap of faith away.
And then there is Man of Her Match by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal (Penguin/Rs 299/254 pages). Kicked off the team for a series of misdemeanours, Indian cricket's bad boy Vikram Walia finally has a chance at redemption. The only problem: It involves collaborating with his childhood best friend-turned-sworn enemy, Nidhi Marwah.
Once a tomboy, now a gorgeous, self-assured marketing professional, Nidhi must put aside her personal dislike of Vikram and leverage his unparalleled fame and poster-boy good looks for her latest campaign.
But the ensuing battle of sardonic jibes and veiled slurs only heightens their blazing chemistry. Soon memories of their past fill their present, pulling them back to that fateful day when a heartless act destroyed their friendship.
Can Vikram and Nidhi put their stormy history behind them? Will their partnership have a second inning? Find out the answers in the book.
The last novel, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Hachette India/Rs 399/380 pages), is the most promising of all and even though it is branded as popular fiction, it falls somewhere between popular and literary fiction. The two main characters of the book, Dimple and Rishi, may think they have figured out each other. But sometimes when opposites clash, love works even harder to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.