The best selling author in English in India, Chetan Bhagat has never pretended to being a literary giant with an authority over scholarly stuff, or a great man of letters with the right ‘international’ accent. He just wants to be known as the common man’s writer. Almost always dressed in casuals, with easy-going manners, the author has a keen interest in spirituality, screenplays and always appears genial and outgoing.
The celebrated author of ‘One Night @ the call centre’ and ‘Five Point Someone,’ was caught in one of his most candid moods by Shivangi Singh of Spicezee at Jaipur Literature Festival.
Shivangi: As you said, you have visited a literary festival for the first time. What is your opinion of this literary festival?
Chetan: I am feeling very comfortable. I thought it would be very formal with knowledgeable writers discussing heavy stuff, but the festival is very interesting. I never thought so many of my readers would come to this place. It’s really good in the sense that even the common people are attending it. It is free and inclusive. It is the biggest in Asia and may soon become the biggest in the world.
Shivangi: Please tell us about your childhood days. How was Chetan Bhagat as a child?
Chetan: I was very naughty. We had a very strict upbringing because of my father’s army background. And my brother and I were in the habit of telling stories to each other, which explains my inclination towards story-telling. I have done some naughty acts like signing my own report card and cooking up stories to escape scolding from my parents.
Shivangi: How did you start writing? How did it all begin?
Chetan. My first work was a joke – an original contribution to the school magazine. I was the youngest contributor in the magazine. In those days it was rare to see your name in print. Now it is everywhere - on railway tickets, bank account…but back then, it was thrilling. I have been a student of Delhi University and I used to write skits and dialogues. And believe me, you better be really good in college dramas or you get hooted. So, it all started like this.
Shivangi: What is the most interesting aspect of your writing?
Chetan: My writing skills are okay, but I always have a good story to tell that deals with reality – things that happen in our day-to-day existence. I am not judgemental, my characters in the book are not perfect, and they do falter. Pre-marital sex, tiff with the boss, job issues – all these things happen, I talked candidly about it when no one was speaking.
Now, of course, many are writing on it. However, the best aspect of my writing is the mails I receive from my fans. I get about 100 mails every day. I am not able to answer too many, but part of my stories come from there. I received a mail about a suicidal girl, the mail was shocking. I incorporated the shock value in my third novel ‘Three Mistake of My Life’.
Shivangi: The names of all your protagonists are based on Lord Krishna (Govind Patel, Hari Kumar and Shyam). Is this a deliberate act or just because these are common names that you have used them in your novel?
Chetan: I am a devotee of Lord Krishna and want to portray a part of Him in my characters. He is the universal lover and I want to talk about love in my books. My characters are playful, naughty, and mischievous like Him.
Shivangi: Is there a reason for this nearness to God? Was there some incident, which made you turn towards spirituality?
Chetan: My success has brought me closer to God. My books have done that. My book came four and a half years ago, and it is still being bought and read. It is nothing short of a miracle that scripts are being made on my books and superstars like Salman (‘Hello’) and Aamir (forthcoming film ‘Three Idiots’) are acting in it. Scriptwriters wait for long years to get films made on their story. My books reached only a part of the audience, but films made on the books served my main intention of reaching the common people, reaching everyone. This divine rule is there in my main intention. I want to win hearts.
Shivangi: Do you believe in destiny?
Chetan: Yes, but I am not a slave to destiny. I also believe in Karma. Destiny is always there. You have to follow your path and work to the best of your ability.
Shivangi: Do you think films made on books, dilutes the impact of the work?
Chetan: It is true in the sense that even I can’t create another ‘Five Point Someone’, what is created once can’t be created again in the same way.
Shivangi: You have always maintained that to move upwards in life, Indians should learn English. Would that not mean the death of Hindi and its literature? How can Hindi be revived?
Chetan: No, it s not like that. It is like I have always said – Hindi is my mother and English is my wife. It is possible to love both of them. But it is true that you cannot be successful professionally without knowing English. There was a boy in Kanpur, who bought Hindi as well as English version of my book. He used to read English version in public and Hindi in private. English is the need of the hour.
But Hindi will not die. At present, there is this trend of making films on English books, soon, filmmakers will explore Hindi literature for good scripts. I also write for one of the Hindi newspapers to reach Hindi speaking crowd.
Shivangi: Your take on elitism has often been very strong…
Chetan: Yes, the problem with elitism is one starts living in a bubble. If we live in the bubble, we ignore the rest. Elitism is in India’s culture. The moment one becomes successful, one becomes distant. And to be a part of the bubble, you have to act as if you have gone international with a fake accent and all that – meaning cut off from the crowd. I don’t want that, I want to be a people’s writer.
And yes, media is not covering India. It’s a very obvious logic; all offices are in Delhi or Mumbai. But 90 percent of India is outside. Media organisations have a bunch of very smart people, but they are out-of-touch. So, they report on things which they like but miss the point. So, sometimes my book becomes more relevant than news.
Shivangi: Please tell us about your upcoming book?
Chetan: It’s a love story and it’s a secret. I am afraid I can’t reveal more.
Shivangi: What was meeting Salman and Aamir like?
Chetan: Salman is a superstar in the true sense of the word. He doesn’t care whether he is hit or flop, he just feels like a superstar. When he first met me during the shoot of ‘Hello’, he asked “Am I going to play him”. And, I asked, “Are you going to play me?” Don’t know, who was more embarrassed. Aamir is a combination of style and talent and he understands his work.
Shivangi: Please name the people whom you admire?
Chetan: In films, I admire Aamir for his work. Cool Farhan Akhtar for his versatility. I want to work with him. Dhoni in cricket, I believe he is better than Tendulkar as India’s captain. Sheila Dixit and Advani in politics. Advani is actually trying to focus on today’s generation. In literature, Gulzar is my favourite.
Shivangi: What is your message to upcoming writers?
Chetan: Talent and perseverance are the key to success. Talent is God’s gift, you have to accept your limitations. Writing is not paying - you have to persevere and not lose hope.
Shivangi: If you are given one chance to do something for the country, what would you do?
Chetan: I would like to be in the same place as the PM. Not MP, not MLA, but the PM, so that I get the power to change the country for better. I will stop writing if I get the power.
Shivangi: What is the real Chetan Bhagat like?
Chetan: Chetan Bhagat is a dreamer, willing to work to achieve his dreams.