07 October 2009

Kama Kahanis - the new Indian Mills and Boon

Kissing and sighing in the good old days
I read these historical romances for Sunday Mid-day. One of them (Ghazal in the Moonlight) was quite decent but I think I might have outgrown the genre.
Here's what I wrote in the 4 Oct 2009 issue:

“His restless gaze settled on a bewitchingly beautiful girl, not older than seventeen. She was angelically exquisite, from her radiant honey-coloured skin to her dark eyes, rimmed with kohl and speaking a language all their own.”
I really can’t be a hypocrite and pronounce grandly that I object to books constructed with sentences like these. As a genre, such books are not literature – but they don’t pretend to be. When critics
complain that their plots are repeated, the language daft and the endings always happy, publishers will reply smugly that it’s the predictability and happy endings that draw the fans – and the language suits them just fine, too, thank you.
Looking fondly back to the days I myself blissfully employed books of this nature to relieve the tedium of Physics class, I could even claim quite placidly that they don’t really turn their readers into quivering neurotics by creating unrealistic expectations or lowering their self esteem.
So I won’t complain about sentences like “You scorn at everything we do” and the use of words like “wager”, or ask why we’re saying “bua” on one page and “paternal aunt” on the next – and say instead that if the purpose of the Kama Kahanis had been to teach their readers history, I’m afraid I’d have to be rude and point out that they’d failed rather badly.
The Zamindar’s Forbidden Love and Mistress to the Yuvraj both read like small-town one-set amateur productions with a few dubious historical elements randomly thrown in. Ghazal in the Moonlight does it a great deal better, actually transporting you to another time with much more visual imagery and absorbing detail. How accurate it is I can’t say – though I can fairly observe that Ghazal is so much more mature than the other two in terms of plot, language and romantic escalation that it’s unfair to even classify it as part of the same series.
In any case, the Kama Kahanis only use the historical background as a means to provide an added edge of romance, a device that was also useful considering the archaic language and concepts used in the books.

All three freely use words such as “quivering”, “impulsively” and “achingly” when referring to the girls, while the men bark with laughter, cock their heads and twitch their devilish mouths (the rogues). Because, though many things have changed, and the heroines here fight duels to win the bag of gold and walk jauntily past tigers to prove a haughty point, they continue to be virgins pure. The men on the other hand are still swashbuckling, experienced studs.
Most interesting is to observe how the romantic-novel formula works in an Indian context. While the publisher coins the catchy phrase “chaddi-ripper” to describe the books, the dress code is (exquisite) period costume of every hue and fabric. Interestingly, the men here are more aware of their own feelings than I remember them ever being. I’m not sure whether this is cultural or a function of the present.
Most hilarious and incongruous of all was the ending of Zamindar in which (unmarried) Madhu and Som have worked themselves up into a frenzy and are now on the verge of Doing It, not fretting in the least that the door is open and the young servant boy might walk in at any moment.

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