In the timeless Malayalam satire Sandesham, Prabhakaran, the character played by Sreenivasan, asks his prospective bride about her favourite book to “measure her social awareness”.

Prabhakaran, a dyed-in-the-wool leftist, asks the naïve girl whether she has read Downtrodden, a question mark by Adolf Saxilly or Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. The girl’s response that Hawa Beach, a serialized novel published in Manorama weekly, is her favourite work leaves Prabhakaran bewildered.

It was a caustic joke that captured an era when readers, especially homemakers and not-so-highly educated women, waited with bated breath for weeklies that serialized novels that catered to pulp-fiction imagination.

The move to publish Mills & Boon, the romance fiction brought out by British publisher Harlequin, in Malayalam has brought the focus back on these weeklies, which seem to have changed character with time.

Many among them have fallen by the wayside while the prominent players Malayala Manorama and Mangalam, which acquired the collective sobriquet of “Ma” publications on account of their name and content, continue to hit the stand without fail.

Sajil Sreedhar, Editor-in-Charge of Mangalam weekly, admitted that survival instinct prompted the publication to change character by moving away from the serialised novel-based content. When he assumed charge, the publication’s circulation had slid from a once high of 17 lakh copies to one-fourth of that number.

“We realised that a reading culture that propped up such tear-jerking novels has long gone. So, we have now brought down the number of novels from eight to five and the number will only drop in the days to come. Besides, we have also opted for standard works of more established writers,” Mr. Sreedhar said.

A decision was taken to infuse more journalism by making features a part of the content.

Manorama weekly also sports a different look with its very diverse content, which was once dominated by juicy novels to keep the readers in tenterhooks. The publication now deals with various topics, including social issues, health, positive thinking, spiritual, yoga, kids fashion, yoga, sports, automobile, culinary, poems, and cartoons to go with column on legal affairs, memoirs of celebrities by close relatives, a veteran journalist’s column on stories behind published stories, heart-wrenching stories of jailed women and even a page dedicated to children.

K.A. Francis, Editor-in-Charge of Manorama weekly, however, claimed there was no conscious effort to overhaul the content except for a few organic changes that happened with the passage of time. “We still carry six serialized novels as there still is a middle income segment who loves to read simple stories. We continue to be the number one publication in the country and therefore there was no compulsion to revisit the content,” he said.

Veteran journalist K.M. Roy, who does a regular column for Mangalam weekly, said with the advent of television serials the novels in weeklies lost their charm. “The publications dealing in pulp fiction were forced to change tracks as their readers found that it was more convenient to watch serials in channels daily rather than wait for a week for the suspense to unveil,” he said.

K.K. Sudhakaran, a novelist who now contributes two novels for Mangalam in two different pen names, said the managements of publications were compelled to revisit the content as the readers got bored on being served with same stories that became predictable. “Earlier, the editorial board decided the theme of the novel and I was just supposed to toe the line. There was no creative freedom and I assumed pen names as I didn’t want to be identified with the stuff being carried under my name. The same stories like a wife being harassed by her husband and mother-in-law with extramarital affairs thrown in to spice things up got stale after a point,” he said.

Mr. Sudhakaran is now happy that he has the freedom to work on topics of his choice without intervention.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Mills and Boon books to be published in Malayalam, of which DC Books is a publishing and marketing partner, will be carefully chosen to suit the taste of readers here. “The Malayalam translation will be part of the British publisher’s foray into more regional Indian languages. We look at it as experimentation and would like to wait for the market response,” said Ravi Deecee, CEO, DC Books.

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