Chetan Bhagat or “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history”, as the New York Times chose to address him, is not new to attention. But even he is taken aback by the kind of brouhaha surrounding his yet-to-be-released novel Half Girlfriend. The title he admits may have turned out to be catchier than he anticipated.
“Look: 4,11,000 views on the trailer,” he says pointing out to the book’s Youtube trailer on the Mac book in his Bandra office. “Even Kai Po Che, despite its visuals and actors didn’t give me so many hits in two days.” he says. Even the twitterati took to it with a vengeance and #halfgirlfriend stayed put on the microblogging site for two whole days.
So what is Half Girlfriend about? “It is about a boy from Bihar who doesn’t speak English well and falls in love with a rich girl from Delhi. What happens when two people from different classes fall in love is what the book is about.”
“It is a unique Indian phenomenon, where boys and girls are not clear about their relationship status with each other — it could be a girl you have a crush on or a one-sided relationship that the girl doesn’t even know she is in. In India, that is what most men get. But certainly not the no-strings-attached scenario — the idea isn’t that hackneyed,” he says.
Like most of his books that are loosely based on his life, Chetan admits that even this one revolves around some women he met. What’s with the number game, we ask. From Five Point Someone to point five someone? “It’s got nothing to do with numerology,” he clarifies. “I am just a numbers guy — right from my engineering days to MBA and banking. It’s just a reminiscent of my past.”
The core idea with his sixth book is however the same as it was when he started out — to reach out to people. “My works may not be looked upon by the literati, but to my readers it means a lot. I may not be able to impress the highbrow, but I can reach out to people from every corner of the country; that I know I can do and that I want to do. It’s difficult to write an English book about a boy who does not speak English. But therein lies the challenge,” he reasserts.
Giving us an idea of the impact of his work he tells us, “I recently got invited to Bastar, Chhattisgarh to deliver a lecture to tribal children. I was naturally surprised at the invitation, wondering what an English writer was to speak about in a predominantly Hindi belt. They told me they were encouraging children to pick up my books. I want every kid, regardless of his or her background to pick up an English book, it may sound far-fetched but I have a dream.”
No stranger to the spotlight, Chetan tells us that the recent attention that his book has garnered has indeed left him quite flummoxed as well. “I don’t even know if I need a PR team anymore,” he says in jest.
The influx of comments however ranges from being funny and witty to caustic and even silly. But Bhagat is taking it with a pinch of salt. “I don’t think they are naysayers, because the book isn’t even out yet. They’re just tripping on it now; trying to take the pi**,” he says unperturbed by the flood of reactions.
The much talked about full-page advertisement on the front cover of a leading newspaper in all major metros has also been a talking point. Bhagat however dismisses any talk of strategy. “I have no business plan. I am learning along the way, but it’s all working out. The hullabaloo on Twitter is not something I predicted. Any social media expert will tell you that you can’t plan these things. Even the UPSC controversy about English grading happened to break out during the promotion of my book. It just added to the excitement.”
About the full-page ad he says, “It’s the first of its kind. It’s a huge deal for me, but a bigger deal for Indian publishing. It goes to show that people are excited about a new book coming up. Who would’ve thought that in an age where Internet has taken over, a book could create such a wave,” says Bhagat who has no qualms admitting that for him, other books are not even competition, because it is apps and online games that he worries about as distracting his readers.
What’s planned for the rest of the year? “I just want to take a break now. With Two States, Kick, the elections and Half Girlfriend, I have been out there a bit too much. Besides, with this book, it’s like I just delivered a baby. I don’t conceive again so soon.”