Chetan Bhagat - Part 2 | The Spool

A recap of the first part of this conversation with Chetan Bhagat

You can’t hit an airport today without seeing about 15 new titles by people from IIT/IIMs. What do you think is happening, and what do you actually think about a lot of these books?

I think mainly with the coming of Five Point Someone or even my subsequent books, people discovered that there’s a market for it. There’s a market that they never thought existed. Earlier people thought there’s only a market for literary books, that very narrow set of people who are very proficient in English who read a certain kind of books. That’s what the entire English publishing industry in India was about. Also now the entry barriers are dropping for books. Because, there used to be a time when you had to manually typeset the manuscript. You don’t need that anymore. It’s all electronic. You can even print 100 books and it’s not going to cost you a lot in terms of putting a typeset. So the publishers can take more chances. Publishers have discovered a market and there are many writers who got encouraged to write. There’s a lot more books being written, there’s a lot more publishers, costs them a lot less to publish and so there’s a lot more coming out now. All of those books may not connect or be as good. That’s part of life. Even abroad, it’s not like every book is a classic there. We know of the western classics but we don’t know the western bad books.

Also IIT/IIM guys make a lot of money na so they can quit their job after a while and say ‘ab main writer banunga’. They actually have the choice.

Talking about your books, a lot of people have said that your later books are not so much books as they are scripts for movies

But they have done very well as books. They have done as well or in fact better, like Half Girlfriend has done better than the previous books. Maybe it’s just because my name has grown, but it has done more than Five Point Someone. I think people have seen too many adaptations so people start imagining a movie now. When the next book comes acha ye picture aise banegi (Oh, this is how it will be made). But you know, for example for Half Girlfriend we had Tushar Hiranandani come in for screenplay and Ishita Moitra for dialogues, I mean these two people worked for months to adapt it. It’s not easy to adapt. It looks like it’s a screenplay but I wish. These are some of the highest paid screenplay writers in the country and we had to get them because it’s quite a job to turn a book into a movie. If the book is a hit and we want to make a movie we just change it. It’s not like it’s written in stone.

Who is your favourite celebrity fan?

She died recently, Vikram Seth’s mom, Leila Seth. This is where sometimes people don’t understand the kind of readers I have, people always feel that oh only certain kind of people read him. But she would come to me at all Lit Fests that she and I attended and she’d say that she loves my books. She would come and sit in the front row in Jaipur in my sessions and I just read a newspaper article that when she passed away she was still reading, on her desk there was One Indian Girl. And she really encouraged me. Because in Lit Fests, initially I used to feel very scared.

You know, what would people think of me but if Vikram Seth’s mother is coming and sitting in your sessions and she is liking your books then what do the trolls matter?

That’s why you ask na how do I deal with it, I know who likes me.

But now they can’t keep you out anymore, you have to be called to Jaipur Lit Fest, you have to be called to panels

The elitists you are talking about, they have no say. The festival organisers, Teamwork Arts or you know Namita Gokhale, she has treated me like a son from the first Jaipur Lit Fest, she has invited me every time, even to Bhutan. If you were to ask, ‘why do you do a literature festival?’ It’s because we want people to attend and read more books, so why would you not call the writers that people are reading. So the narrow set actually is irrelevant, they know, I know and the organisers know that. We all know.

If you become elitist about the books then you are judging the readers.

So it’s not like they have to, it’s not like I’ve won a battle. They have always been calling and I go when I can and I don’t go when I can’t.

But you know, the first time you go to places like that where you know that you are regarded as a certain kind

Yea I feel a certain kind of hostility because the people who have been criticizing me are all hanging out there. Driven down from Delhi…

So did you feel nervous the first few time like you said, what was your experience?

I used to feel it; initially I used to tell my wife, that I feel a little hostility, because people don’t like me. But then I did my sessions and there would be school kids and they’d all fill it up. After seeing the crowd attending my sessions I realized, you know there were people you would never imagine come to a lit fest.  In Jaipur there were people in pagdis, the village pagdis and they’d tell me we read your articles in Dainik Bhaskar, we read the Hindi version of your books and they wanted to talk to me and they liked my thoughts. So you know, you focus on that and it goes away. I am like, okay I have come here and they have come here for me and if somebody is sneering somewhere in the corner, it’s their problem it’s not my problem, right? I am doing my work.

Maybe it helps them as well, where if they say that they are attending Jaipur Lit Fest and ‘oh my god Chetan Bhagat is here’, they get twenty likes. That’s the gratification they are looking for, that’s all they will get in life. It’s amazing how locked we are in our Facebook bubble.

I like writing my books. I love that my readers like them. Someone wants to be a snob it’s their problem. If you come to my Facebook page with 6-7 million fans, you’ll say that oh everybody loves him. So what is right? Today in this post truth world as they call it, we need to make an extra effort to find reality.

In India we have a problem of elitism. It’s a colonial hangover, I call them colonial scum, they’ve been left behind and they don’t know what to do. And now they are trying to reclaim their elite but India won’t let them. All these young kids are hungry, they’ll all come and they’ll make their own choices, they don’t want to listen to the elite any more.

They’ve chosen a Prime Minister their own way. So what do they care about these elites. They have chosen a guy they wanted, right or wrong we’ll see, but they have chosen whom they wanted. Yogi Adityanath, painted as a villain by the elite circles, he is CM, one of the most high profile CMs in the country today. So it’s very interesting how these things happen.

Do you see yourself as an outsider to this club or are you a separate club altogether?

I don’t…

I belong to a country, I don’t belong to a country club. I am writing for India and that is my club if you want to call it that. I don’t want to be in any club, they’ve made it a club. But the club is not even very nice, it’s an empty hollow club

 no facilities, no spa nothing. Why will I join that stupid club. Just because you have good English doesn’t make it nice you know. You need to have a good bar, spa, and swimming pool etc., they don’t have it.

You use Twitter a lot; we wanted to know about your relationship with Twitter?

My relationship with Twitter! It’s an app.

It’s a very powerful tool, sometimes one of my tweets has had more impact than an entire column.

Sometimes I have taken bold stands, things that politicians will never say. Like for example, Porn ban, it was about to get banned in India and I remember nobody was speaking out. It’s one of those things you can’t say don’t ban it because you’ll be asked, ‘oh you like porn?’ But I felt it’s crazy if men already can’t control themselves in India then porn atleast gives these guys a release, yea it may be bad for you in the long term, but they will not be molesting girls in shopping malls, so how can you ban this? And you can’t ban this. You can’t with the Internet. You’ll ban and somebody will sell it on the streets on a pen drive or whatever. So I said this can’t be banned and this shouldn’t be banned. It is free expression, what is the problem? And so once I said that other people started talking and then slowly in 2 days the government backtracked and there was no porn ban. Couple of cases like that, where you know, me and a couple of influencers can shape public opinion because politicians are not treading there, they don’t want to touch that.

I read an interview where you said there are three forms to you, there is Chetan the Entertainer, Chetan the writer and Chetan the reformer so going forward do you see any one form coming out more?

It’s all together. Writer is the core. But some of the writing goes towards entertainment and some towards reform but

without reform entertainment feels very dull and boring to me. Just bestseller books, box office collections, that’s okay. It’s not what I live for.

What this gives me is celebrity, what this gives me is reach, everybody is talking about Half Girlfriend, tomorrow my column comes, you know, my views will be shared, you’ve come here because I am famous, I am famous because of my movies and books, but you have discussed feminism with me today so my views will be out there on feminism. So that’s reform. You need both, for me I can’t be one without the other.

A lot of public personalities say that they don’t want to be that public, but like you just said when you have that reach you have the ability to influence change, so which side of the debate are you on?

I think you should be public with your views. Personal life I don’t share much on social media. I don’t share that I ate this for lunch and my puppy is doing that, which a lot of people do on Instagram. There is a line. I like to talk, I like to share but I’ll give my views not mundane silly details. I think celebrities have quietened down because of trolling, because of the nastiness that goes pardoned and sometimes even encouraged. And if you keep quiet the trolling drops for sure, the more you talk the more trolls troll. Manmohan Singh will have lesser trolls than Modi ji. But if I do that I am not doing my job. When I am a writer and I want to reform and create change I can’t be quiet or always give my opinion in a politically correct way. Maybe, if I don’t talk then they won’t attack me but have I done my job then? I will say my views and I will get attacked for it. That’s okay I think, that’s part of my job. Shouldn’t be taken as, ‘why are people attacking me?’, it’s understandable; I am trying to expose you.

Purists diss you and a lot of time it seems like you enjoy dissing them in return and it’s kind of a cycle and they don’t seem to listen to it, so is there a point to it or are you just doing it because you need them to know?

I don’t need them to know, I am not trying to make them to listen. The few occasions that I have clarified are because it’s important that the readers don’t feel judged. My readers shouldn’t feel like why is Chetan always being attacked, what is the real thing? It’s for them. I say to them that, ‘no these guys are phoneys, these guys are fakes or they don’t have logical arguments of what I am talking about’. The (people who diss) are not going to change, no. I am not hoping to win their love one day. But I think it’s important for me to clarify sometimes, because there are people who judge, ‘oh you read Chetan Bhagat, oh!’ So I need my readers to be able to answer to that guy and say, ‘so what, I like reading him what’s your problem?’ That’s all I need them to say. And that’s called self-confidence. I have confidence in what I like, you can’t tell me what to read, you can’t look at me with scorn for liking certain things and that’s all I am trying to tell them.

The funny thing is they are the ones who say, ‘oh I have read all 7 of his books, they are all terrible’. But then why did you read 7 books?

If I don’t like an author I’d probably stop his books midway and never talk about that author in public. If you hate something you won’t go to every party and talk about it na? If you do that that means somewhere that person is connecting to you, somewhere that person is making you think that he is on to something.

You’ve made it to the Delhi University English literature reading list - alongside J.K. Rowling and Agatha Christie

Usmein bhi controversy. Mera kuch lena dena nahi (there’s controversy in that too. Even when I have nothing to do with it). I wasn’t sitting in the committee and saying ki daalo. I was making Half Girlfriend. At least I have woken them up a little bit. I mean it is really special that they have added me, I am very honoured.

But it’s a course on popular fiction in India. So are you not going to put the highest selling author of popular fiction in the popular fiction in India course? If you are doing a course on popular cinema, will you not show people Salman Khan movies?

I don’t know, that’s a question they can answer better.

I mean I fear what is being taught in English literature classes. How many Chetan Bhagats have they killed in class? Somewhere down the line they have lost the very definition of literature, which is expressing in words what is happening in society, and if society is connecting with that how can you not even want to understand it? Whatever it is, why would you behave in such an elitist way. So I think it shows a lack of open mindedness for those protesting. It’s not an award, it’s something you have to study. Maybe you can study and say, ‘Agatha Christie is great and Chetan is not’. It’s not a trophy it’s not a national award.

Well on Twitter I am the third most followed writer in the world after JK Rowling and Paulo Coelho, so that’s good enough for me.


Your life story as a book title. What would it be?

Two states. Kind of, part of the story. Depends on the life I’ll lead na, there’s still some left. Title tab denge, abhi pata nahi kahan jaati hai gaadi.

Why are you judging a dance contest? Do you have dancing skills we don’t know about?

I have judged it once and I didn’t judge the dance. I mean again people have become fast in reaching judgements. My job was to judge the relationships, it’s a dance show between real couples. So my job was to actually judge the chemistry and to see whether the couple is real. But I went there to increase my popularity and reach, so that people who see the show are more likely to read my columns. But I still believe if I can make people read whole books they will go beyond the fake headlines.

Was it fun?

It was one of the most fun things I have done in my life. I miss my Nach Baliye days. I only did one season and I am very happy. And it’s great research. The middle class India that comes there, the people who take part in the show and the aspirations, you know, for a writer there is so much research happening there. To enter the world of reality shows and see how they tick, get to know India and many other things.

What is with the numbers?

Because I am an engineer, MBA. These are memory of my days as an engineer, I guess. A tribute to the past that’s all.