By Nikita Nagaraj
Structured as a conversation between the author and his long standing and only editor, Shinie Antony, the session undulated through various topics, ranging from the women Chetan Bhagat’s life, the inspirations behind his women characters, Bollywood, politics, Feminism in India, and Chetan’s wife and their marriage.
Bhagat appreciated his return to the Bangalore Literary Festival, especially the surroundings this year: “The venue is not quite what I expected. It has a beauty of its own, with its open spaces and greenery, which I think is perfect for this festival.”
Here are some of my captures of Chetan’s unfiltered views on the range of topics covered:
On discussing his popularity and admitting it’s not all about good writing: I have really good marketing skills. People may say that I am not a brilliant author, but I know how to promote my works. I may not be the best author, but I am the best-selling author and that is enough for me. I make an effort to meet my fans halfway because my books are inspired my actual people and real stories.
Chetan’s philosophy on how to win with women: Women rule my life and they always have, whether it is my wife, my mother or my editor. It’s really easy to impress women, all you have to do is treat them right. Unfortunately, in our country, most men haven’t a clue about how to do this. Women need to be respected and that is what I do.
The kind of women he likes: I like women who are smart, independent and individualistic. They should have their own identity, dreams and goals. Intelligence in a woman turns me on. It feels good to be with a woman who is sure of herself and knows who she wants to be.
The inspiration for his female characters: I am inspired by real women whom I meet. All my women characters are strong, feministic women, be it Ananya or Vidya. I want my characters to be role models for young girls. They should be women of substance and not just props that fill up space. The film Kick was based on the Telugu film of the same name. In the Telugu version, the actress Ileana is not given importance. I wanted to change that in the Hindi version, hence we gave depth to Jackeline’s role by making her a psychiatrist.
On his wife: Anusha keeps me humble and grounded. What I like most about her is how she refuses to get carried away by fame or popularity. The TamBram (Tamil Brahmin) in her will never allow her children to get influenced. She still emphasizes to my sons that education is the most important thing. Also, she wants to be known as herself, as Anusha Bhagat and not only as ‘’Mrs.Chetan Bhagat.’’. I really admire that about her.
On critics and haters: I take criticism the same way I take praise- with caution. I do not allow either to affect me. Criticism is common, but I try to focus on those who love my books. If someone is taking time off to talk about my work, that means that what I have done affects and impacts them and that is enough for me. Haters, on the other hand, are people who are highly opinionated and cannot see things from another’s perspective. I do not mind this at all.
On Indian feminism: Unfortunately, there is nothing like Indian Feminism. Either there is extreme Western Feminism or none at all. We should find our own way to tackle our issues. Personally, I feel change starts at home. Every mother should teach her son and every Mother-in-law should support her Daughter-in-law. Feminism is going to get its stand when men feel the same way as women.
On Bollywood: I do obviously like Bollywood but I am not obsessed with it. The reason I participate in Bollywood is to increase my popularity, because in this way, more people will recognise me, follow me and read my work. It definitely helps me to be seen. It’s just a career and I am focused.
On the recent controversy between Deepika Padukone and Times of India: I am kind of stuck in the middle because I work in Bollywood and I write for Times of India. I feel it was more about bad taste rather than ethics. At the end of the day, a woman should be respected. If she feels offended or insulted, her feelings should be taken seriously. I think Times of India should apologise to Deepika because she has the right to be outraged. There are ways of portraying entertainment without labelling body parts.
On the half-girlfriend concept: It is a very new concept for me, something I have not done before. Since it is my most recent book, Rhea is the closest to my heart right now. I have made her a little different than my other characters. The main challenge for me and my editor was to write an English novel from the perspective of a guy who does not know English. I have tried to bring out the issue of English in our country. We Indians do not speak English properly, hence I write my books in the form of written English, rather than aiming for proficiency. There are just five days left for my book release and I am excited.
Filled with witty references, humorous anecdotes, laughter and enthusiastic participation from the audience, the session was lively, engaging, and a memorable highlight of BLF for those who attended.