Five Point Someone came out in 2004 and we’ve been living in its aftermath for the past decade. I was all of 14 and mildly impressed. And all of my amusement / admiration was directed at the fact that the author was an IIT-IIM(A) alum. No more.
Growing up, I was fed a regular supply of the fattest books from the local library. I had read Grisham, Dan Brown, and Erle Stanley Gardner before my age had hit the double digits. And my peers were no different. My best friend smuggled Tolstoy to school and the boys raved about Mario Puzo. We did marathons – no sleep, no food until we’d finished our books. My parents knew that it was pointless to engage me in a conversation when Perry Mason was in the middle of legal battle with DA Hamilton Burger. They knew from my knotted eyebrows that a murder had been discovered. Shit had hitteth the fan! Even when I was pre-teen, Bhagat wouldn’t have made it to the bottom of my list. Sure, I read his book (took probably a few hours at most), but I didn’t find it any more entertaining than the ten-odd boy-meets-girl-and-scores movies that release in our country every year.
But India begged to differ. What followed was an abysmal story based on call center employees, and some shoddy dramatic essay on religious tension in Gujarat. When he ran out of plots, he decided to write about his own love story. And India lapped it all up. I thought we’d arrive at a point where we’d see strong, focussed, and intelligent literature given that the market was opening up beautifully to young local writers. But Bollywood decided to revive Bhagat’s career and give him even more fame than was ever deemed necessary. When 3 Idiots came out, he took to the media to blame VVC Productions and Raju Hirani for being disrespectful towards his contribution to the story. He wanted his name in the opening credits and not the closing ones! Do you see what fame does to the fickle minded? This. 3 Idiots owes its outline to Bhagat, yes. But the movie is what it is because of Abhijat Joshi and Raju Hirani. In retrospect, let’s examine the literary genius of Chetan versus the fresh content of the Raju’s movies. The data speaks for itself. But the author never stopped grabbing footage. As recently as 2014, the Salman starrer Kick released and it was announced that its screenwriter was none other than wronged-by-Bollywood-author Chetan Bhagat. Now, here’s my problem. I have watched the original Kick starring Ravi Teja (in Telugu, without subtitles) and it was horrendous. The Hindi version is NOT an improvement. The makers could have simply hired a translator because there wasn’t any difference between the two! But instead, Bollywood chose to create undue employment opportunities for someone who should never have emerged in mainstream literature circles. Not only were we subjected to Two States and the prospect of Half Girlfriend (with Arjun Kapoor), Mr. Bhagat now hints at the idea of directing movies! Fun Fact : Chetan Bhagat and Arjun Kapoor’s careers can be mapped using a copula function.
All of this is because we as parents, teachers, siblings, and friends haven’t encouraged sensible readers over the past many generations. We submitted to the ease of viewing a television screen over the odious task of holding a book open. It was just easier to adapt to DDLJ in a book form than read something that challenged the set and accepted concepts of a good story. We handed out a death sentence to Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Victor Hugo and everybody else who brought magic to us in the form of the written word. And if that wasn’t enough, my sister tells me that we have someone called Durjoy Dutta on the block who happens to be the new Chetan Bhagat!
May the Gods be with you.