The IITian who became synonymous with the country's 'biggest bestselling author' ever—Chetan Bhagat has come a long way. He left his 'secure' investment banking job, and turned to invoke the power of pen—what followed is history. In tête-à-tête with the author, Ritika Handoo of Zee News gets to know about his new book 'Half Girlfriend', future projects and love for Salman Khan.
You have written some of the most-read books in the country. What is it that inspires you to keep your pen going?
The response from my readers is primary. I write about the kind of people who read my stuff. Like in 'Half-Girlfriend', Madhav is a middle-class boy from Bihar - this is the kind of audience who reads my books. These are the people who inspire me. The more they read me, the more I write about them. Sometimes they connect, and for this particular book, it's about the language English. So I researched and got to know that millions of people in the country are not comfortable with speaking the language. Therefore, I have taken this issue in my book. It is the Indian middle-class people, the youth which is my inspiration.
Did you expect 'Half Girlfriend' would be adapted into a Bollywood film even before it hits the stands?
It was actually pretty crazy. In fact, I asked the makers not to do this unless people read the book. I told them to first see if the audience is picking the book or not. I told them to first see the response for the book. Whether or not people like the story. But yes, of course they had read the book beforehand. Therefore, they were confident about it. Today the mediums are converging, and for me whether Twitter or movies or books—it's everywhere. It helps in creating the hype around the book. People want to know what the book is all about, if a movie is made on it. Also, it's very difficult to market a book these days, and I am here to present my books. So if it helps, then I am fine with it. There is a method to it. So, I have no complaints.
Given the fact that five of your works have been made into films, did you keep this in mind while writing 'Half Girlfriend'?
In fact I didn't even think about it. I knew people would come to adapt it. Therefore I was more free in terms of writing. However, I did want to do a classic love story. I had not done a full-blown love story. Even '2 States' was more of a family drama. 'Half Girlfriend' is a classic love story and that lends itself very well to cinema, that's why there was more interest for this one. But that may not be the case with my other books. I had earlier written 'What young India wants', but that had nothing to do with Bollywood. Whatever can be adapted has been adapted.
Besides you of course, which other author's work do you think should be made into a film?
No author as such, but there are some books I feel should be made into films. There is a book called 'Room', which is about a boy trapped in a room. I find it fantastic, as it is based on a real life case in Austria, where a man had locked the woman for seventeen years. He just kept using her. He kept her underground, had kids with her. After they were rescued, this horrific tale came out. The story of 'Room' is told from the point of view of this five-year-old boy (trapped woman's child). So for the kid, the room is the world. In fact, when he comes out, he doesn't like it. It is a great book; I think a movie is being made on it though. The similarity between this book and my works is that the language is very simple. It's written from the point of view of the little kid. It is written in the boy's voice.
How much of a difference do you think adaptations have made to the world of Hindi cinema?
They have done quite well. The fact that the makers are now taking my books, shows that there is now demand for content-driven books. Even before the casting is decided, they announce the film. This shows, content is one of the ministers now, if not the king.
After writing screenplay for 'Kick', are there any other offers coming your way?
Yes, there are offers coming my way. But it was really a one off for me. I just did it to learn about it. I enjoyed the process. It was a big 'hungama', with Salman Khan in it. But it is a collaborative process of screenplay, while when I write a book, it's my thing. 'Half Girlfriend' belongs to me solely, I can say that. A book of mine gets the similar buzz as the movie, nowadays. I enjoyed about learning what the audience wants. What do Salman Khan fans want? They want entertainment. But sadly the entire process is too time consuming, I will rather write a new book.
Has the acting bug bitten you as yet, or do you prefer staying behind the camera?
I have done some ads earlier, but it's very difficult. I can do a live audience, stage may be. But acting and reading lines, then remembering them is very tough. I would rather prefer off-screen romance than onscreen.
Is there any one in particular whose biography you would like to pen someday?
Yes, I would like to do Salman Khan's biography may be. The superstar has a very fascinating life. Therefore, it would be very interesting and challenging to do it.
From IITs and IIMs, you have now emerged as brand Chetan Bhagat, where the youth sees you as an icon. Do you feel the pressure to deliver your best?
Yes, there is a constant pressure. I didn't apply for the 'youth icon' job. Everyday, you get criticism for how horrible you are or what you have said about certain people. You have to say correct things all the time. Otherwise, people will tell you look what is there on Twitter or see what they have said about you and all. When you have an ice cream, and there are flies over it, what do you do—just wave them off. So criticism doesn't bother me.
You're quite active on social media platforms and vocal about issues concerning the country. Being an esteemed author, how much of a politically inclined person are you?
Reasonably, I do comment on politics. Like Maharashtra elections are now coming, so I have to do that. It's important that if I have so much reach, then I tell people to go out and vote. Look at politicians properly, and make their choices wisely. I like doing that. In my books also politics is there. Issues like a boy can't speak English, divorcees etc. These are important issues in society anyway. My books are political in that way, not in a political party way.
Is there anything you would like to convey to your fans?
I just want to say thanks for making almost everything I write a success. I was very surprised because I was nervous that people are going to lose interest in books. Nowadays, everyone has smartphones, apps and who would want to buy a humble book, I thought. However, I was wrong and thankfully so. Also, looking at the changing pattern these days, the partner this time for announcing the book was also online (FlipKart). All of the activities were primarily done online, and this was for the very first time that we attempted something like this.