Ex-banker turns to Bollywood
MUMBAI: An Indian investment banker turned wildly successful novelist is taking a career turn in Bollywood, with a screenplay he says will tackle social issues in the same vein as the books that made him a youth icon.
Chetan Bhagat shot to fame with his coming-of-age tale “Five Point Someone” in 2004 — written at night while he kept up his financial day job — which became a huge commercial hit and spawned a raft of Indian campus novels.
Another five books and ten years later, 40-year-old Bhagat has dropped the banking career to become a full-time writer and speaker, known for his casual writing style enjoyed by millions of Indians but snubbed by the literati.
Four of Bhagat’s books have already been adapted into movies, but “Kick,” an action-thriller released on Friday and starring Bollywood headliner Salman Khan, is the first screenplay he has written that is not based on his previous work.
He said he found the experience less “lonely” than novel-writing — although the collaborative method of film-making had its challenges.
“Writing a screenplay is a far more consultative process. When I write a book, I do the story the way I want it,” Bhagat told AFP in an interview.
“In a book, one can digress a bit whereas in a movie or screenplay, you have to be tight and not wander too much from the plot.”
Bhagat’s writing to date has tapped the aspirations and concerns of students, call-center workers and other middle-class youngsters, but purists have balked at his disregard for syntax and form, unashamedly targeting Indians who do not consider English their first language.
Despite being considered lowbrow by some — evident in a Twitter spat with Nobel-winning author Salman Rushdie over comments made by Bhagat at the 2012 Jaipur Literature Festival — he has sold more than seven million copies of his books, which touch on contemporary issues from failures in the education system to inter-community marriage.
An alumnus himself of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and Management, Bhagat is considered a role model by many ambitious youngsters, and his only non-fiction work so far, in 2012, took on the subject of “What Young India Wants.”
But even Bhagat seems unsure of the secret of his success, describing it as a “really hard question to answer.”
“I think, based on what others have told me, it is a combination of easy language, humor, relevance of stories to India, tight plots, relatable characters and a connect to the readers,” he said.
“I also feel I was lucky to be (in the) right place, right time when I started writing books.”
Bhagat’s debut “Five Point Someone,” a comedy-drama about three friends in engineering college and the pressures they face inside and outside the conservative institution, provided the inspiration for “3 Idiots,” one of the biggest grossing Bollywood films of all time.
His new screenplay for action film “Kick” is about a man who lives for adrenaline rushes.
The film is a Hindi remake of a 2009 Telugu language production of the same name.
While it may sound like a commercial star-vehicle for the actor, Bhagat insists the film, like his books, “tackles a contemporary social issue.”
“It is about a man who lives for his kick. The movie is not about kicking someone. To be geeky, it refers to kick as a noun, not the verb,” he said.
He is aware, however, of the pressure on him in a film starring one of India’s most popular actors.
“Salman’s fans are in the millions and their expectations have to be met. They see their hero as larger than life, and they will find the same in ‘Kick’,” he said.
“To that extent, it is different from the heroes in my books where I normally have a simple middle-class boy.”
Another of Bhagat’s novels, “Revolution 2020,” is being turned into a film — a story set in heartland India about two boys with different aspirations but in love with the same girl, which also looks at corruption in the education system.
Bhagat says he is open to his next book, a rural-urban love story, also becoming a movie project.
He remains a keen chronicler of young Indians at a time when they have great expectations riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in May promising to revive the economy and create jobs.
“They want a government that cares, is responsive, will increase incomes and make people feel safe and free,” said Bhagat.
“At some point the government will have to deliver or risk creating dissonance.”