Bollywood not completely black: Chetan Bhagat

Bestselling author Chetan Bhagat insists that Bollywood’s portrayal in the media post the Sushant Singh Rajput tragedy has been disappointing and far-fetched. Stressing that the industry may have its problems, but to paint everybody as evil and a drug addict is “absolute nonsense”.

Himself an ‘outsider’, on whose books, several films including ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Hello’, ‘Kai Po Che’, ‘2 States’ and ‘Half Girlfriend’ have been made, the writer said, “There is no Star Trek like control room in the film industry where everybody is sitting, doping and and conspiring against people. Yes, it’s a highly competitive place where only a few films can be made, and a lot of people want to be part of it. And that is bound to bring a certain stress. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it’s not all black.”

Lashing out at the media circus surrounding the young actor’s death, the author, whose latest book ‘One Arranged Murder’ (Westland Publications) recently hit the stands told IANS, “Sushant’s death came as a shock and there was bound to be confusion. But I still don’t get it — what was Mumbai Police doing so wrong that there was such a media outrage over their investigations? And now that the CBI has taken over, considering it was tough to ask for FBI or Scotland Yard, still, each night on prime time, everyone is trying to solve the case. Are you smarter than those 15 sleuths? Strange conspiracy theories with not even a shred of evidence that will hold strong in court are discussed night after night.. With such stories, one should go to a publisher. At least I am honest — I say I write stories and they are fiction.”

Adding that at a time when the economy is in a free-fall and tensions with China are at its peak, television channels are too busy ‘solving’ the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the writer goes on to added, “We just want to focus on conspiracy theories and become Sherlock Holmes.”

For someone, who has mostly been known for writing love stories, the latest one, a murder mystery, his second after ‘The Girl in Room 105’, was the need of the times considering people’s tastes are changing and thrillers are ruling the roost. “Look at the most popular web series. Now it’s no longer about whether the boy gets the girl in the end or not — point is, does he kill her in the end?”

Adding that it is important for a writer to reinvent constantly, Bhagat assures that despite being a murder mystery, the latest one is a “Chetan Bhagat book”. “So, it is bound to boast of liberal doses of comedy, romance and Indian reality. The setting of the book is a Punjabi arranged marriage. Frankly, it’s the Indian touch that I bring on the table — even if you’re not a murder mystery person, you’ll still enjoy it,” he said.

Ask him if it is the entertainment value or excellent marketing success that makes his books such a success, and he is quick to asserted, “There is never one reason. I have tried to analyze. What if it is fluke? But then I have written nine books now. And this meme called Chetan Bhagat has been going around for 16-17 years now — there has to be a method to the madness, no? I always try to keep things simple, fun and bring forth the essence of Indian through interesting stories.

“When I started writing, I knew I wanted a career out of this — that requires a lot of ear to the ground, travelling, being active on social media, to gauge what the youngsters in the country are thinking. There is a little more effort behind it than people often think — for ‘One Arranged Murder’, we had almost 50 people read the book and give feedback — then we improved the book.Three or four different editors worked on the book and improved it. Everybody knows, it’s not easy to keep readers hooked for 300 pages.”

For Bhagat, the key to producing so much work lies in making writing life’s rhythm. As he says — you write, release a book and write another one. Adding that one needs to know when to let go as any piece of writing can be improved any number of times, he said, “A painter knows when to move on to another canvas. He wouldn’t necessarily dwell over a single one for 10 years to make it a masterpiece.”

For someone who has worked in the banking sector, the corporate discipline has come in handy. “I know what it is to get up in the morning, take a shower and sit down. Whether inspiration comes or not– if you are writing, you have to write. It takes me a year to write a book, next year I don’t. I give motivational talks, see India, travel and absorb ideas for the next book.”

As the conversation veers towards his political columns and allegations from some quarters of being right-wing, the writer says that the columns started as an experiment and have managed to have a reader base of its own, independent of his books.

“As far as being a right winger is concerned, well, it’s a world-wide problem with the Left. They want people to be Left and liberal in a certain way, say a certain thing. If you say anything that’s slightly off-the-script, you are a sell-out. I am in the centre. The left club seems to be clear on one thing — you must hate Modi — only then will you get a leftist’s badge. I don’t want that and I don’t hate. I am not in a relationship with the Prime Minister to love or hate him. Also, when you’re constantly criticising, objectivity takes a hit — and that’s happening. See the many subscriber driven websites and platforms. People say advertisers bias the media but the truth is subscribers bias the media a lot more. If your subscriber base is not mixed, they will bully you into cancelling subscriptions — you have no choice but to lean a certain way then. My job is to be credible, along with being interesting.”

The lockdown for Bhagat meant no book launches, film projects or motivational talks. “All there was left to do was write another book, a crime thriller. It’s almost ready,” he concluded.