book bazaar

The three genres that topped 2014: the gap between pulp and literary fiction just got wider

You may not find your favourite books of the year mentioned in this article.

Which works of Indian writing did India buy to read in 2014? We looked at the bestselling lists put out by the leading e-commerce sites to extract the trends. These, then, are the baskets of books that we identified as the favourites of the year.

Runaway Romances
Surprising no one, the story of Madhav and Ria, aka Half Girlfriend, was the runaway bestseller on all charts. That every new book by Bhagat will be a huge hit is axiomatic by now. What is interesting is how he maps his market and writes just what his chosen target audience wants ‒ in this case, a journey through St Stephen’s College, Delhi and the streets of New York, with a detour through basketball, the men’s hostel, and the swank precincts of Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road. This is fantasy in the guise of everyday events, dream-fulfilment rather than what might be, and it continues to work with people who read very little besides Bhagat’s books.

While the rising tide of Bhagat’s bestsellers don’t life many boats, the ones that do benefit are other simplistic narratives tapping the ubiquitous vein of love, longing and some lust among young people. No complexities here - only pre-plotted developments moving to a pre-ordained climax, involving one-dimensional youngsters whose romantic trajectories are a surrogate for readers’ own, often faltering course of love.

So we had, inter alia, When Only Love Remains by Durjoy Datta; Your Dreams Are Mine Now: She Showed him What Love Was, by Ravinder Singh; and Sorry, You're Not My Type by Sudeep Nagarkar. All of them set in college campuses or in the world of showbiz, with the complexities of reality reduced to raw and overflowing emotion, devoid of either social or psychological underpinnings.

Thriller Takeaways
It’s easy to imagine a large bunch of city dwellers past the first flush of romance but still looking for ways to escape the relentless pursuit of the daily grind. For them there were the stories of an edgy existence, surfing that unreal territory between crime, greed and passion that never quite goes out of fashion in popular fiction, even if real life has never really resembled it.

Combining all the contemporary stereotypes of drugs, virtual games, real and electronic money, markets, fetishism, gender-bending masquerading as the dark side of the soul, Ashwin Sanghi ‒ with the internationally branded help of James Patterson ‒ and Ravi Subramanian, the sultan of the sinister in current Indian writing, wrote their way into people’s bookshelves (though, come to think of it, are thrillers read more than once?).

Sanghi’s Private India, part of the international Private series, was an improbable tale of detection against the backdrop of terrorism, with a string of murders following a pattern setting up a chain if suspense leading to the identity of the murder, with some soft underworld connections and even romance thrown in.

As for Subramanian’s God Is A Gamer, its exhaustive research into Bitcoin ‒ the virtual currency that had nerds twisting their knickers in a frenzy ‒ a meeting between the heads of Visa and MasterCard and the introduction of Wikileaks turned it into an embodiment of the well-informed geek’s Facebook feed, told in the form of fiction. It was a page-turner despite its heavy dose of information - or perhaps because of that very reason.

Mythological Mysteries
Yes yes, book-buyers are still keen to have their traditional myths packaged into racy tales, and the more they can combine historical characters and different epochs of time, the better. Hence the success of The Mahabharata Quest : The Alexander Secret by Christopher C Doyle, where King Alexander, the Mahabharata, terrorism and a spot of archaeology all come together for a huge - and riveting - historical-modern caper and chase. And yes, there’s all that “science” too.

At the other end of the mythology as fiction scale was Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Debdutt Pattanaik, where queer identity was explored. At first glance, this might seem an unlikely candidate for a popularly accepted book, but it showed the way to a discerning readership hungry for an authentic telling of the myths that emerged from the collective consciousness of the past.

Of course, that’s not all that people bought and read. But the big picture is sharp. And the clear and present danger to the market prospects of the “literary book” is palpable. Now you know where publishers have to look to keep their cash registers ringing.

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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.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

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!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“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:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.