MUMBAI: Across the crowded ballroom their eyes met and locked in an electrifying embrace. The gaze of dashing, fair-haired young English aristocrat Milson Boon was focused on luscious, raven-haired Indian beauty Deepa Persez. Her bosom a-quiver with longing, she knew their mutual destiny was written in the stars.

Or in a paler shade of purple prose, bodice-ripping publisher Harlequin Mills & Boon has extended its production operations to Mumbai in the expectation that India will rapidly become the world's largest market for romantic fiction outside North America.

According to Donna Hayes (above), HM&B's voluptuous yet petite, flame-haired but blue-eyed ceo, India's estimated 300m readers of English comprise a market of "staggering" potential for titles such as Virgin for the Billionaire's Taking and Bedded for the Italian's Pleasure. The books will be progressively adapted to suit localised tastes.

Meanwhile, a flickering smile played across the finely-chiselled features of Andrew Go (also above), HM&B's dashing country manager for India, as he spoke of his quest for a rupee-ridden romance with the Indian female consumer.

"India is the land of love," quoth Go. "When you walk out of a Bollywood movie, with its boy meets girl, conflict, happy ending storyline, you feel uplifted. It's the same with our books."

Since Gerald Mills and Charles Boon launched the company in 1908, millions of women across the globe have been transported into a fantasy world of intrigue, danger, passion and romance. 

At which point, alas, romanticism falls prey to mundanity with the admission by Go that for sixty years, the Indian market had been treated as "a dumping ground" for books remaindered in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff