24 March 2008

~Chetan Bhagat's Most Candid Interview Ever~

Chetan Bhagat
(born 22 April 1974) is India's highest selling Indian author[1]. He is the author of two bestsellers: Five Point Someone - What not to do at IIT (click here to know more) and One Night @ the Call Center (click here to know more). He is also the scriptwriter for 'Hello', the Bollywood movie based on One Night @ the Call Center.

The Interview:

What made you consider writing fiction? Did you feel you had something specific to say, or was it just a love of writing that prompted the move?

I have always enjoyed entertaining people. Also, I feel strongly about a few things in society. Fiction allowed me to combine both in the form of a story with a message. I have always enjoyed writing, so I felt it was worth trying.

Both your novels have met with tremendous success. Did that come as a surprise the first time? Were you expecting One Night @ the Call Centre to be as successful as Five Point Someone?

Yes, the extent of Five Point Someone's success surprised me. This is because the book was rejected by so many publishers that my expectations had hit rock bottom. I just wanted to see it in print. For ON@TCC too, my expectations were modest. Matching the first novel's freakish success was not going to be easy. I was a lot more nervous before the second novel's release than I was at the first. However, I think I underestimated the loyalty and love of my readers. ON@TCC sold as much in three months as Five Point did in a year. And readers reacted by asking, 'What? You were worried?'

The setting is a key part of your work. How do you go about deciding what to weave a story around?

Setting is critical, as otherwise stories are just about people. But a key role of fiction is to transport the reader into a different world -- and the more interesting the setting, the better the reader experience. In my case, the problem is somewhat complicated as readers expect me to do a relatable setting as well. So, based on these two criteria and my own curiosity about the setting, I choose.

You maintain you have never set out to write a literary novel, but do you believe in that category at all? How would you categorise your kind of writing?

Of course I believe in the literary novel -- it is just that I have never aspired to be in that category of authors. For me, entertainment comes first. This is because what is entertaining travels far and wide, and thus, the message wrapped in the story travels wide. This means the story you created had a purpose, which is very satisfying for any author. Entertainment is a complex enough field if you try and understand it properly, so I get a lot of intellectual challenges from it as well.

What, according to you, makes a good novel?

There is no one answer, but I think that if a novel can transport its readers into a new setting, make the characters seem so real that you think you know them, and the story grips you such that you can't keep the book down, it is working well. Also, if the story can trigger three things in you -- past memories, imagination and emotions -- you have really got a good book in hand.

Who were the writers you turned to during your years studying management and banking? What is the kind of fiction you enjoy?

I read a wide variety of books, but my preference for contemporary and funny stories remains. In college, I went through an Ayn Rand phase (don't we all). I read Catch-22 several times, and it was a humbling experience each time. Among Indian authors, I read Rohinton Mistry.

In the past, you have spoken of the dark side to these call centres. Do they worry you, in terms of the sociological, physical or other damage they tend to have on their employees? Did you conduct any research on that aspect of the BPO industry, apart from the way it actually functions?

Yes, it worries me. While there are several issues related to call centres, my main concern is on one issue. Is the government creating the right kind of jobs that work our young people to the full potential? Call centres are becoming a mainstream solution now, so it is important to discuss it. I believe if the government really gets its act together on infrastructure, the young workforce will get better quality jobs that are more fulfilling and will make India move ahead.

I have a dream -- I want to see India as a developed country before I die. And, for India to achieve its full potential, people have to work to their full potential. If I see people at the top not doing their job, and the young generation losing an opportunity because of it, I am not going to stand for it. I am sick of my country getting the short end of the stick each time.

I would clarify that this obviously has nothing to do with people who work in BPOs. My cousins work there, and they are making the most of options available to them. If I wasn't lucky enough to clear a few entrance exams, I could possibly be working there too.

Is there anything about contemporary Indian fiction that excites you?

Well, the most exciting part is the potential size of the market. It really is infinite. Fiction in India has not really taken off as it could. A lot more growth is possible in the coming years.

What if you were to spawn a generation of copycat writers back home in India? How would you deal with that?

I would blush at the indirect compliment. Seriously, readers can tell when someone is original and when someone is not. And luckily, the concept of remixes has not really taken off in fiction.

Would you ever consider writing a novel about investment bankers?

Perhaps, but not while I am in the investment banking business. I write to escape from my daily life -- doing a novel on banking would be too much of the same thing. But yes, there are some funny, dark stories around here�


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