| I don’t want my works to sound similar and repeat the same characters.
By CHETAN BHAGAT's Interview by Ananya Borgohain The Pioneer
"CHETAN BHAGAT "
Author: CHETAN BHAGAT
Publisher: Rupa, Rs175
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Chetan Bhagat’s debut as an author. As he releases his latest novel, he tells ANANYA BORGOHAIN about how he perceives himself
His books become a sensation much before they are officially launched. Almost all of them have been adapted into popular Hindi films. In his 10th year as a writer now, Chetan Bhagat recently released his latest novella Half Girlfriend, about an indecisive relationship between a boy from rural underprivileged India and an urban elite girl. So what makes him so popular among the masses? And can he ever overlook his fierce critics? We try to find out in an interview:
In 10 years, you have become an institution among the young population in India. How do you look at your legacy — literary or intelligent brand marketing?
I don’t think marketing alone can sustain one’s works for 10 years. It can help to an extent but it cannot be the sole grindstone that can polish one’s career. It cannot be the only good thing. On the contrary, people who would repeatedly sell the same thing in the same way, for instance, know little about marketing. Of course, once my book is ready to be released, a team would handle its publicity, but what matters is that the core of the book, the substance, rings with the readers first. Something has to trigger in the reader for the book to be loved. My books have been read for a decade now, I think the readers genuinely enjoy reading them and it is not marketing alone that has helped me reach where I am.
The ‘Chetan Bhagat genre of writing’ is casual and largely colloquial. Your readers say that they love your books because they reflect things that happen in the everyday situations. If that is true, would that not deny you room to experiment with themes which are unique and not mundane?
I think when the writer is the same, at times, his or her works begin to look similar. But I don’t repeat my characters. I think my books are different from one another. See, I don’t write sequels because of that, even I don’t want my works to sound similar and repeat the same characters. If you think about it, then even Harry Potter is a series, so the characters, themes and settings tend to be almost the same.
Agreed, but even if you are not writing sequels, the tone and tenor of your novels are similar. The style of narrating is identifiable as yours as well. Would that not make your plots predictable for the readers then?
True that, maybe now I should begin to experiment with newer themes and techniques. It is important to eliminate possibilities of redundancy so of course, it is always advisable to try new styles. Having said that, I wrote What Young India Wants and I still write serious columns.
Which authors do you read?
I am now keen to follow the works of authors like George Orwell, Charles Dickens, Earnest Hemingway.
What triggers an idea in you?
It can be anything. For instance, suppose I am travelling and I meet someone, it may strike an impression on me. The place I am travelling to could have some impact on me. Or when I am being interviewed, I may observe the journalists and build a story in my mind. Ideas can be triggered from anywhere. I notice people, I imagine.
You have not experienced much with the context in this novella as you had in, say, Three Mistakes of My Life which had several serious events portrayed in it, or in Two States which had twists and turns. Half Girlfriend moves in one direction and has a single theme with largely just the two lead characters. Was it a conscious decision?
Yes, in this case, I just wanted to explore a simple love story and explore two people. They are very unlike each other and are stuck in a very unlikely situation. I think we haven’t seen stories like that. Here is a guy from rural India who can barely speak English but is head over heels in love with an urban English-speaking girl who has her own emotional baggage. I thought it would be an interesting story to tell.
How would you react to the argument that your portrayal of rural India seems problematic? Madhav Jha is always seeking an opportunity to be kissed by his reluctant ‘half girlfriend’. Is it possible to empathise with his character?
I think it would be out of context to only refer to the point where he says “F*** me or f*** off” and say that Madhav is a sexual predator. There is much goodness in him as well. He leaves his elite educational background and opportunities to work in urban India just so he could go back to his village and teach in his mother’s extremely under-resourced school. He uses that obscene language and his relationship with Riya (his ‘half girlfriend’) collapses thereafter and he is full of regret. Well, I think, men are like that. They tend to get extremely emotional and have an outburst. It’s a fact, my characters behave in a real way and we can’t help it. And here’s this guy from the interiors landing up in the elite metropolis. I am writing about the real young and urban India and people. People fall in love and at points, just lose it. They swear, scream, hurt each other. In the second part, you see the change in the characters. Both Madhav and Riya have changed, from being the naïve teenagers to the mature teacher that Madhav becomes and Riya becomes the divorcee trying to hold her life together.
A photo of the page that includes that heated verbal exchange between Madhav and Riya has gone viral on the web. Are you aware of your critics’ problems with you?
I know about that, but I also think that people who criticise me are not large in number. There are some of them, sure, but largely I have managed to reach out to a huge audience. I don’t think or bother much about the critical points.
There is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders particularly towards the youths of the country.
I am aware of that, which is why I now filter a lot of my thoughts before sharing them in public. Earlier, I used to be absolutely irreverent. But now I try to be careful.