Tamil Pulp Fiction

When I was a kid visiting India with my family, I used to see these small magazines sold at every bus stand and train station.  They had exciting covers featuring detectives, guns, skeletons, blood splotches, daggers, and busty ladies coquettishly looking right at me.  Obviously I had to find out what was inside these magazines.  Unfortunately, I can’t read Tamil.

Now, twenty years later, the incredibly good people at Blaft Publications have solved the problem for me.  They’ve released two anthologies of Tamil Pulp Fiction translated into English.  I just started reading the first and it’s great.

My favorite thing so far is from the Translator’s Note.

Here are some guidelines laid out by Sudhandhira Sangu in a 1933 article called “The Secret of Commercial Novel Writing”:

1. The title of the book shoud carry a woman’s name – and it should be a sexy one, like ‘Miss Leela Mohini’ or ‘Mosdhar Vallibai’.

2. Don’t worry about the storyline.  All you have to do is creatively adapt the stories of [British penny dreadful author G.W.M.] Reynolds and the rest.  Your story absolutely must include a minimum of half a dozen lovers and prostitutes, preferably ten dozen murders, and a few sundry theives and detectives.

3. The story should begin with a murder.  Sprinkle in a few thefts.  Some arson will also help.  These are the necessary ingredients of a modern novel.

4. You can make money only if you are able to titillate.  If you try to bring in any social message, like Madhaviah’s *The Story of Padhmanvathi* or Rajam Iyer’s *The Story of Kamalabal*, forget it.  Beware! You are not going to lure your women readers.

Eighty years later, the advice holds up.

Here’s some dialog from a random page that I turned to:

“We heard that you have invented a machine that can read a person’s fate.”
“Who told you that?”
“A colleague of yours.”
“What do you want to know about it?”
“If such a machine really exists, we’re interested in marketing it globally.”

I’m pretty sure both speakers are prostitutes.

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4 comments
  1. Anonymous said:

    Fantastic insights that stand the test of time.

  2. Suman said:

    Hi Vali and Nithya – is it bad that it took me forever to figure out how to leave a comment on this blog. I just wanted to let you know that I am reading your blog and enjoying it. Missing you both!

  3. I don’t think War and Peace even had 120 characters, let alone 120 murders. I guess War and Peace wouldn’t make for good Tamil Pulp Fiction.

    • Vali said:

      Pro Tip: What most people don’t realize is that if your novel allows the murder of ghosts, you can get ten dozen murders with way less than 120 characters.

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