Sunday, June 15, 2008

Myriad Mistakes

People say that the 3 mistakes Chetan Bhagat has made in his life are the three novellas he's written. On my part, I think that these people are jealous and unkind, to the point of being rude. I don't wholly subscribe to their school of opinion. For starters, as financially viable ventures, they have all handsomely paid off. In the process, he's also making India read like never before (this, a gem of a coinage by m/s Penguin India, instantly puts him on the same kind of a pedestal as a certain Dr. Radhakrishnan, a Gokhale or a Vidyasagar.) Yessir, In his life, Mr. Bhagat has done good, despite all the jealousy, and he's merrily dedicated his book to "My Country, which called me back." He's still keeping his day job, through when does he make time to visit office in between all the book promotion tours and reading sessions is anybody's guess. In short, his life so far reads like an utterly improbable balancing act, brilliantly pulled.

So, what gives?

You know, it's difficult to put a finger to it. Unfortunately there's no better way to put it than say that it just doesn't feel right. It's like watching Arnold do a drag show time and again. It's obvious Mr. Bhagat has Bollywood aspirations. All he wants to play to is his college student readership. All he wants to write for is a mainstream Indie film. He even drops names of his Bolly friends in Acknowledgements. There's nothing essentially wrong with that. One only wishes that with his kind of education and his capacity for lucid prose in an undergrad vocab (a rare trait in an MBA, who has been trained to jargonise and obfuscate.. but I digress), he should try and scratch the surface a little, put up a little classier act, and kind of do an Sabrina Dhawan instead of a Vijay Krishna Acharya, if that's the allegory I want. But there, that's his one undoing. He seems fixated on kitsch.

Let's look at Chetan's other strength. He has the ability to structure a compounded story with multiple characters woven around real life surroundings and sometimes, incidents. His first born, mostly autobiographical, had hit home with its freshness and cadence. His second, just to cash on his debut success, was born out of second hard research and third hand influences, noticeably of Hollywood flicks. The effect showed. You can't produce a halfway decent novel out of some idea that struck you upon watching Bruce Almighty. Perversely, this again sold. So, by the time of his third release, Mr.Bhagat had developed some very annoying habits. Even though much of his storytelling is still in the autobiographical mode, he will needlessly start and end his story in first person, encounter a protagonist, and try to stitch it all into his real life. Every story will also have a happy ending, fuck probability and likelihood. Every story will have a drawn out climax which reads like more a screenplay than a book. (In fact, this time around, the finale, y'know, the felling of Kans mama with a cricket ball, was so graphic, it evoked visions of an Ekta Kapoor serial. It cried for that same zoom in, zoom out, pan right, pan left, then go negative and back to color...treatment.) To make things worse, now and then, in between workaday storytelling, he will throw in some profundity which is the written equivalent of a ceetee bajao piece of dialogue. Sample this :

A very good friend is a dangerous category with Indian girls. From here you can either make fast progress. Or, if you play it wrong, you go down to the lowest category invented by Indian women ever..the rakhi brother.

In my humble opinion, this time around, Chetan had bargained with too big a landscape to go with his inane storyline. If there is one part of India which has seen the most action during the last decade, it is Gujarat. If he had to keep in frame that time, and those events, he should not have dealt in such shallow sentiments.
Two: by the time he was shaping up for Godhra, the whole ruse of his plot had fallen into a predictability trap. Which is not a good thing for a novel which has a purported USP of pace, twists, and turns.
And three, if he is writing about a child cricket prodigy and his abilities, he has to be a little convincing in his cricket commentary. I mean, "the medium pace ball rose high on the bounce and smash! another six," or, " Ali spun as if in a dance and connected-six!" just don't cut it.

Source and Source


narendra shenoy said...

I guess I'll be staying away from that book. I met him once, at some awards function where I was piling on and he came across as a regular guy. He just had his first book out at the time and he genuinely seemed a little confused with all the attention he was getting. All that must have changed because his second book was complete rot. So, apparently, is his third

Sud said...

I don't really understand the fuss about Bhagat's books. He's first one, even if it were autobiographical, seemed too unrealistic - don't really think the life at IITs would have changed so much in the 10 odd years after his stint there