“I can’t say much about Salman Rushdie, I'm more like Salman Khan," quips Chetan Bhagat, who was at Big Bazaar yesterday for the launch of his third book, Three Mistakes Of My Life.
The author’s earlier books,--- Five Point Someone and One Night At the Call Centre--have both been record best-sellers, making him a cult figure of sorts among youngsters. The critics of course haven’t warmed up to him calling his writing everything from 'fluke' to 'naive'. But Chetan couldn't care less. He says, "I want my books to reach anyone who has a moderate understanding of English. Even Hindi medium students can grasp the language in my books."
More importantly, the author is determined to pull down Indian writing in English from its high horse --one that he says reeks of elitism, he says-- and make it relatable to the educated middle-class. Which is one of the reasons Chetan decided to hold his book launch at a place like Big Bazaar, he tells us. "I could have done this event in any five-star hotel but really, that is not what I'm looking at. When my friends heard, I was releasing my book at Big Bazaar, they wondered if I was mad. But this is the real India, so why shouldn't I do it here?"
The unwillingness to accept Chetan into the literary fold also stems from the fact that Indian writing in English has always been very ‘concentrated’ in more ways than one. This is quite unlike, say America where all kinds of fiction –whether for mass consumption or otherwise find a place. In that sense, the Indian literary scene is more of a snoot club, he feels. “You know, the interesting thing is that they don’t know how to deal with me. I’ve studied at elitist institutions like IIT and IIM, so in a way, they know I have all the credentials to boast. Honestly, I find their snootiness sick. For some people, the British never left and nor did colonialism,” he says spewing venom at his detractors.
In one final assault, he says about Indian writers in English “I think we wasted 30-40 years…just chasing awards. That's the truth but when Chetan says it he gets slammed for it. These writers only target the West…they have no interest in appealing to the Indian audiences.”
Finally, about his just-released book, Three Mistakes Of My Life –the story does appear to go a bit over-the-top but Chetan says he didn’t want it any other way. “Firstly, I’m not a perfectionist. Secondly, I needed a dramatic ending. I cannot create a lame narrative when I’m taking about events in Gujarat. It’s over-the-top because the events themselves were over-the-top,” he says emphatically.
Given the growing appeal of his books among youngsters, Bollywood is taking to Chetan like never before. While his One Night At A Call Centre is being adapted into a film called Hello directed by Atul Agnihotri, his Five Point Someone is being made into an Aamir Khan starrer, Idiots, which is to be directed by Raju Hirani and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Says Chetan, "Raju (Hirani) was my first introduction to Bollywood. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn't have made any inroads here. He had read my first book and had loved it. When I met him, he asked me to remain quiet for some time and just listen to the praise he had meant to heap on me. (laughs)."
But would Aamir Khan look convincing as a student? He's playing the dare-devil character of Ryan, right? "Yes, he's playing Ryan. I think Aamir is Aamir, he can play anything convincingly. Agar hum chalis ke hain, toh lagtein hain, Aamir nahin lagta. In any case, I believe the story is being approached a bit differently. It has a lot of flashbacks, so the story starts from where the book ends."
In general, does Chetan insist that his story is not tampered with much? The young author shakes his head, saying, "No, I have no such conditions. They can interpret the story the way they like. See I think my book is like my daughter and a filmmaker is allowed to glamourises her. I don't mind if some light-make-up is applied to her, but I wouldn't like plastic surgeries to be done," he smiles.