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.
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.
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.