Move over Chetan Bhagat. Eat your heart out Shobhaa De. Whichever way you look, you’re not the royalty of pulp fiction in India. As a nation, we may ‘talk Inglis, walk Inglis and laugh Inglis’, but when it comes to reading books, most of us tend not to do so in the ‘phunny language’. In the coveted communion between author and reader, Hindi rules.
If nothing else, the numbers nail the case. Just the top three authors of Hindi pulp together sell more than 15 lakh copies a year. Each of them annually churns out between 2 to 10 books, each of which sells between 50,000 and 2 lakh copies. In comparison, any English language title that has sold 5,000 copies is termed a bestseller, even if the number is achieved over a couple of years.
You may say Hindi pulp sells for a mere Rs 40 a read, till now an untested price point for English novels. But then, look at how the Hindi novels are sold: printed on low-grade paper, wrapped in a cover that’s cheap both financially and aesthetically.
As for the authors’ dakshina, one of the top trio says he sells each title for “at least Rs 4 lakh”, while another parries the question, saying: “There’s a helluva lot in this field.”
Yet, each of the reigning trinity — Surender Mohan Pathak, Ved Prakash Sharma, and Anil Mohan — says that theirs is, in fact, a shrinking market. Yes, they capture eyeballs with boombastic titles — Biwi Ka Nasha and Hatya Ek Suhagan Ki, to name just two stars in an expanding galaxy — but they might as well forget about any-decibel marketing from their publishers, a list topped by Raja Pocket Books, Radha Pocket Books, Ravi Pocket Books and Tulsi Paper Books. (One should, however, note that a recent plastic-wrapped release from one such factory promised to have currency notes ranging Rs 100-1,000 tucked between the pages.)
Such stray efforts at hardsell notwithstanding, sales are falling. “There was a time when cinema and Hindi pulp fiction were the only means of entertainment in smaller towns. But television is now killing Hindi pulp,” says Sharma, whose 159th book was released recently. Mohan, author of 180 titles, thinks self-help books are the main competition for Hindi pulp. Still, English language authors would agree that sales figures are no measure of popularity. Perhaps it’s the adulation of fans. But in this quarter too, the Hindi trio trounces their English language counterparts.
Sharma is busy these days shuttling between Meerut and Mumbai, where his main job is to ‘fix’ the meandering plotlines of television drama.
Pathak hit the headlines when a bank robber confessed he was inspired by one of the author’s 267 books, Zameer Ka Qaidi. “There were dozens of OB vans parked in front of my house after the criminal made the confession... I got scared that I may be booked by the police,” says the soft-spoken author. The 68-year-old says he now wants to read Chetan Bhagat to figure out why he’s giving the top trio of Hindi pulp a run for their money.