One-on-one with Chetan Bhagat
With yet another novel about to launch, the bestselling author talks writing during a pandemic, Sushant Singh Rajput, and adapting for the big screen.
He is one of India's best-selling authors whose books have also been adapted into Bollywood movies. We caught up with Chetan Bhagat to talk about his ninth and newest novel, One Arranged Murder. An engaging thriller, it is slated for worldwide release on September 28 and will be available on Khaleej Times' online bookstore, Busy Reading Books. The author also shared his views on online bookstores and how they could promote reading in a post-Covid world. Excerpts:
Congrats on your newest book. Can you give us a brief premise?
Well, it's a murder mystery mixed with romance. Since Indians are quite interested in murder mysteries and arranged marriages, I thought if I mixed them together, it would be an interesting plot.
Your books are known for their 'human' stories. What made you gravitate towards thrillers?
One Arranged Murder is still a human story; it's not a very hardcore crime story in that way. It's still a Chetan Bhagat book. But you know, attention spans are becoming less. So, I can make a love story gripping, but the moment I add crime to it, it brings in a lot of suspense and that makes people more curious about the book.
You announced the book with a trailer. Why was a visual teaser important to launch a new book?
It's a nice hook to bring people from a video to a book. A girl on the roof falls and dies and, if you want to know what happened to her, you have to pick up the book. Secondly, in these Covid times, where I can't really do a [physical] book launch, this serves as the best platform. In fact, I always attend Sharjah International Book Fair, which happens in November; I have done so many book launches. So, that is something I will really miss this time. In such situations, a trailer helps. A video trailer makes it easy for people to know what the book is about.
There was an awkward time when parallels were being drawn between the book and the recent suicide of a certain star. Did that leave you feeling a bit odd, given you had also known him closely?
So, the plot of One Arranged Murder is about whether it's a suicide or a murder or an accident; obviously, any murder mystery is like that. But the nation right now is gripped with Sushant's murder mystery; in fact, not only in India - even outside, people are involved in it.
There is, of course, no link to [the ongoing case], apart from the fact that both are murder mysteries. In fact, my book was supposed to come out in May but, because of the lockdown, we had to postpone the release of the book. I knew Sushant; that's a real-life case and there are a lot of investigative agencies involved in solving it. It's one thing to solve a murder case in fiction, but when it comes to real life, I think you should be very careful what statements or assumptions you make, and what conclusions you reach.
Sushant was known to me and it was a big loss; he did Kai Po Che, which is based on my story. His launch movie was my story so, of course, that special connection will always remain. I hope he gets justice, but for that I think we need to let the investigating agencies do their job.
Many of your works have been adapted into films, such as Five Point Someone, 3 Mistakes of My Life, 2 States, and Half Girlfriend. What makes your stories ripe for Bollywood adaptations?
I think the books are really popular and very relatable to Indians. They have been read by millions of people across the world who like their content. Normally, when you write a script, you don't know if people will like it till they see the movie. But with a book, you know that if you translate the book well into a movie, people will at least like the story. So, that is the biggest reason: they are all bestsellers, so a lot of people want to adapt them. My narratives are also very fast-paced, packed with a lot of suspense, action, drama and emotions - and all that works for a movie.
You are also known for being fairly outspoken on social media. What has that cost you? And what have your learnings been from that?
Social media became popular after I became a writer; for my first few books, social media wasn't even there. In the beginning, social media was just fun or to share silly jokes - now, it's become a worldwide phenomenon. There is lot of politics, hate and negativity. I have millions of followers now, so I have to be very careful because I am not just saying something that comes to my mind; I am broadcasting it if I put it on Twitter. So, I try to keep a balance. As a writer, my job is to write and talk, but I have to be a little responsible and careful - which I try to be.
What have the past few months of the pandemic taught you?
I was quite disappointed at having to postpone the release of One Arranged Murder, as I had spent the whole of last year writing this book. I was ready to travel, and was even planning to come to the UAE to launch the book. But then I had to wait. To be more productive, I started writing another book. Now, that is also nearly complete. Besides that, I could also take care of my health because, for the first time in my life, I wasn't travelling.
Khaleej Times has recently launched an online bookstore, Busy Reading Books. How do you think such online initiatives can promote reading habits in the time of Covid?
I think this initiative is amazing. Even if people these days see a lot of videos, they realise that the magic of books is still there because a book is written after years of effort. A video can be made in one or two days, so it obviously won't be as deep and insightful as a book. Books still have a charm and they will always remain, no matter how much digital content or how many video platforms we have. In the current times, having good online distribution of books is amazing.