The most interesting story of English trade (non-academic) publishing in India is not in any of the thousands of books it produces every year. It is in the weekly charts of bestsellers, which go down into the top 50 books sold.
Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the sales of books that you read and buy regularly.
1. The books on the charts stay on their regular trajectory for about 140 successive weeks. Then Chetan Bhagat launches a new novel. In that very first week, Bhagat’s book almost ‒ not quite, but almost ‒ sells as much as the rest of the top 500. Certainly more than the rest of the top 400.
2. Remember those pop-corn romances about girlfriends who died on their boyfriends, girlfriends who ditched poor boyfriends for richer ones, girlfriends who proved as fickle as the Sensex? Those books from a few years ago that the snobs hated and so many school- and college-students loved. They still rule the charts. Week after week after indefatigable week. The same titles, not new ones in the same genre.
3. Grammar books sell really, really well. Always have, and it seems they always will. Why, you may wonder, when you read anything written by their buyers.
4. Make a movie out of a book and it shoots up the charts. One day, not too many people have heard of a book, the next day there’s a Hollywood or Bollywood movie made out of it, and the third day everyone’s falling over to buy it. Not when it comes to TV, though. Some of the most popular TV series on American or British TV, which Indians can’t wait to download and watch, are based on terrific books. Which seldom sell enough to make it to the charts.
5. Take No. 2 above and replace romances with inspirational books. Same story. Remember those pathbreaking books that first told you that you must live worthwhile lives but if you can’t, the universe will still conspire ‒ and the seagull will still inspire ‒ to make your dreams come true? How can you not, when you’re still buying them, years and decades after they were originally published. You’re buying self-help books copiously too, by the way. Although there’s something contradictory about considering self-help from a book.
6. Take No. 5 and replace with mythological fiction. (Not the kind that’s being foisted on us by spurious historians.) But the me-toos have sunk without a trace. It’s only the trendsetters who command steady purchases every week. Writing about human versions of Hindu gods is no guarantee of success. There’s something about Amish.
7. Fifty Shades of Grey is still up there. Not so when it comes to other self-proclaimed erotica or even borderline pornography.
8. Literary novels don’t sell. From anywhere in the world. Unless it’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or To Kill a Mockingbird. Are they taught as academic texts? Indian fiction that does not aim squarely at the mass market is extremely successful in fulfilling its intent. It seldom sells large enough numbers to make it to the charts. No wonder sales heads at publishing companies look away hastily when editors boast of the fantastic new literary novel they’ve published.
9. Mein Kampf is still in the Top 500. Sill crazy after all these years.
10. Missing in action: Poetry. Translated books. Literary non-fiction. In other words, the best-produced books in the business.
Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”
The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.
This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.
All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.
The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.
There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.
Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages.
Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.
But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.
“Nice girls don’t do that.”
“So I’m a bad girl.”
“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”
“Bad girls get in trouble.”
“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”
“What bad things?”
“Very bad things.”
A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.
This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with.
It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.
“Have some shame!”
“Oh for shame!”
“Do not bring shame upon…”
Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.
It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.
And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.
The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!
Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).
Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:
This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.