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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 09:00 GMT
Will India fall for Mills and Boon?
By Shilpa Kannan
BBC News, Delhi

Mills and Boon cover
Mills and Boon men 'don't have flaws of real men'

The famed publishers of romantic fiction, Mills and Boon, launched in India recently.

The company hopes that its amorous storylines will eventually seduce the country and become their biggest market.

So what does an all-female reading group in Delhi think of romantic novels where the dark and brooding hero almost invariably ends up wooing and winning the fair maiden?

The women of a reading group I met at a cafe in the capital have a common passion for romance.

For Seema Monhot, the main appeal is the "feel good factor" of a romantic novel.

Long-time readers

"I like happy endings," she said.

"Romance, for a girl, is an ongoing thing until the day you die. It doesn't matter what age you are, you still want every bit of the romance that you experienced the first time you met your boyfriend, fiancÚ, or loved one. That's the way I look at it."

Although Mills and Boon - which has nearly three-quarters of the romantic market in its home country of the UK - is only now launching in India, their books are already popular in the country because they have been unofficially introduced from abroad.

Many in the reading group describe themselves as long-time readers.

Members of the Delhi reading group
Reading groups members acknowledge the stories are fanciful

Rachana Srivastava, for example, says that she grew up on a "staple diet" of the publisher's works, which have moulded her perception of the ideal man.

"I always imagined a knight in shining armour having vineyards and being tall, dark and handsome, coming and waking me up in my sleep and carrying me away somewhere," she said.

"It has always been like that for me."

I ask the women in the group who their ideal Indian romantic hero man would be.

They say he should be a combination of Bollywood actors Hrithik Roshan and Shahrukh Khan, businessman Anil Ambani and industrialist Sunil Mittal.

Interestingly, these are all modern Indian men - the women are not looking for age-old Maharajahs.

'Dark and handsome'

"Contemporary India likes contemporary men, men who are self-made and not of inherited wealth," says Savita Jain.

"That makes them more interesting."

Mills and Boon cover
It's a world where women are swept off their feet

Her friend chips in that this dream man would be "tall, dark, handsome, rich and have a private jet".

The women tell me that in real life, men have flaws as well as their plus points - but one of the joys of the men in romantic fiction is that these flaws do not exist.

Unfortunately perhaps for real Indian men, the women say that the plots of the novels have sometimes influenced their choices in real life.

"When you read the books, you relive those moments with your beloved when you meet them," says Savita Jain.

"What I feel is that these are just fiction stories. When you are reading them you are happy with them, but you don't actually come across such heroes in your life," adds Kiran Chaudari.

"It's very hard to get an ideal partner for yourself. Reading a Mills and Boon, you tend to fantasise - and you do get disheartened."

Indeed, this is one criticism frequently levelled at Mills and Boon - the sheer lack of realism, both in character and in plot.

But for another of the group, Meenakshi Jain, realism is the last thing she wants.

"The world we are living in, it is so tense," she says.

"This kind of book gives you respite from these tensions. You can fantasise yourself into the place of the heroine."

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