Three books and two film scripts later, Chetan Bhagat refuses to accept that he’s a publishing phenomenon. MITA KAPUR
Story telling for him is like spiking his tales with “green chillies, onions, lemon juice to intensify human emotions”. Chetan Bhagat has been called a “people’s writer”, one who writes with a style akin to Bollywood masala films. Of course two of his books are being made into movies. More than anything else, Five Point Someone, his first book, marked the start of a new movement in the publishing world.
Chetan Bhagat came to be known as a “publishing phenomenon”, to which he reacts, “I really don’t know how a rejected writer became a phenomenon. I write fun books and people liked to read them. I am still doing the same thing I used to when I started to write.”
The title, Three Mistakes of My Life, grabs attention because all of us are human and we all make mistakes. Set against the backdrop of communal strife and violence in Gujarat, the story picks up pace towards the second half of the book. His stories apparently fall under the genre of urban dark fiction; social critiquing is elemental and incidental since “my books carry my personality. I carry a fun exterior and a dark interior. People say when they read my books for the first time, they find an unputdownable story. The second time, they find the humour and the third time they find a lot of sadness. That’s me I guess. I do like to have a message in my books but entertainment always comes first.” Story telling come to Chetan naturally, “It is a natural gift. Frankly, I don’t have to work too hard to come up with stories.” No wonder then he says he’s like Microsoft’s open source programming.
Chetan’s books have fortified the constant debate between literary fiction and popular fiction — there is a feeling of one upmanship. “I don’t write for one-upmanship; I don’t have to. My readers are reason enough. For some fake people, books are an elitist product and they find happiness in putting down readers who like simple books. I stay away from such people, as deep down they are quite insecure.” Many readers from the Hindi-speaking belt have read Chetan’s books, which “feels great. I want to reach as many Indians as possible in my lifetime. We have some translations under way. The Marathi and Gujarati versions are out, while the Hindi one is in progress. It depends on having a good translator/publisher relationship working out.”
Five Point Someone and One Night at a Call Centre are being adapted as Bollywood movies by Raju Hirani and Atul Agnihotri. How difficult is the process of a cinematic dramatisation or adaptation? “It is quite challenging as scriptwriting is another art. It took me a year to adapt One Night… into “Hello”. The script is in Hindi and one-third the size of the book.” What about loss of depth in characterisation during adaptations? “Films are about action and drama. I am not a worrying kind of guy. As long as the people are competent and they present a fun story I will enjoy it as much. I am not here to make sure it’s on a one-on-one basis from the book to film. It shouldn’t be; yet it’s keeping the essence of the book,” Chetan said.
Chetan speaks of “democratisation of literature” where “even a moderately educated person has the right to enjoy a book, and all associated activities around it — whether it is a book launch, discussions, movie adaptations. Books are for everyone, not just high-society snobs.” For all his populist appeal, his language has proved to be a double-edged sword. He has also been called the voice of young India. “The whole ‘voice of young India’ is a bit over the top. I don’t want to sound like a Pepsi ad! My language is simple, and that is the biggest appeal of my books. However, experts who claim to know better than me tell me that is not the way to write.”
His reasons for setting the first chapter of Three Mistakes in his own home with his family are clear. “I just wanted to show people how my writing has changed my life. I get extremely personal mails from readers all over, all in the middle of furniture shopping and office presentations. The conflict I feel on a daily basis had to be shared.” Back in India after over ten years, “it’s been great, like coming back to my mother.” With three books and two films, Chetan plans to “Rest. Let the mind refresh itself. Maybe a film script next. Who knows until the next plot gets downloaded!”