One of acquaintance of mine, having read a Chetan Bhagat novel herself, described his writing style thus:
“I think he intends all his books to be made into Indian movies, and hence writes like that”.
That one sentence analysis was bang on. Both of CB’s novels that I read, played out like stock Hindi movies: full of stereotypes, clichés, poor character development, simplistic, poorly researched, lacking personal insight and avoiding any thread which might be touchy, complex or taboo.
A very strong feeling which pervaded while reading his books was, it was like he first visualized all that he wanted to write, and then actually wrote it. Nothing wrong with the visualization there but I think the problem in his case is, he visualizes the actual movie which is going to be made on his novel and writes that exact scene in his novel, maybe to lessen the work required on film makers’ part. And it does not help he never visualizes Satyajit Ray making his movie, it is always TLV Prasad. And hence, his attempts at character development are…, well, let me explain through these examples:
To establish his two protagonists one of which is morally upright and the other a poor kid showing early shades of grey here is what Bhagat has to offer-
The setting is that the two kids have stayed back in their classrooms, bunking the prayer assembly, to raid their classmates’ tiffin-boxes. This, they tell us, is their weekly raid. Wait a minute, why weekly? They don’t feel hungry every day or their petty crime instincts arise just on Tuesdays? I never came to know, but anyway, moving on. So they are raiding. The morally upright one says “I have brought Poori-aloo, we can share that. It is wrong to steal from others.” Really?? Is that what he says to the other fiend every single week? That it is wrong to steal? It is like the ubiquitous ‘Ramu kaka’ asking his master, while he hands out blankets to be distributed among poor “Thakur Sahib, why do you distribute blankets to these poor people every full moon night?” Why would anybody on earth ask this question any time other than the first time they did it? I can understand an unimaginative movie director doing this because he had to establish his character and move on, but there is absolutely no excuse to employ it in a novel.
Now sample this: The poor kid’s reply back on the Poori logic “Forget it, your mom cooks boring stuff. Poori every day.” Sure, of course. That is exactly how a poor kid responds to an offer of Poori, that it is boring. A kid so poor, he cannot afford to bring lunch ever. Even if we assume that this weekly raid was just an escape from the boring Poori this poor kid had to share with the rich kid every other day, then also he would not have had explained himself…oh that was way too much of my typing effort wasted on this little piece of bullshit. Moving on.
Ok, so the guys are raiding. Suddenly they notice a fancy school bag. The poor kid asks “Who sits here anyway?” As I learnt a little while later, the owner of that bag was a pretty girl. Tell you what, when I was a kid, I knew every fancy bag that was in my class, especially, if it was of a pretty girl. So, for that poor kid to not know this, he must be:
– New to class.
– Certified owner of super cool school bags himself.
He was none. So, I assume, that was just to build a little suspense before the introduction of the third protagonist, a female, a pretty one, and the third vertex in this, guess what, Love Triangle!! Master stroke, isn’t it? A sure winner, this formula.
The raid. Yeah.
So they open the fancy bag. Find a piece of cake inside and cut it in half with a plastic ruler. This was what my friend noticed and shared with me. That was nostalgia right there. We all had cut stuff with rulers. It was a ‘relate’, and a good one, I must say. (No sarcasm here)
So they cut the cake, eat it, the girl finds the cake missing, shouts, cries, the teacher notices and starts investigating the crime scene. She is taking a round of the class, looking for the guilty. The poor kid narrates “when Gill Madam walked by, I stared at the floor. She wore golden slippers with fake crystals on the strap….” Now which 10 year old tells if the ‘crystals’, I think crystals are a noteworthy dumb choice here, are original or fake? Do kids, especially guys, that young even notice that? I sincerely doubt that. And that was so unnecessary. If details were what Mr. Bhagat had to give, the kid might have noticed the blisters on Ms. Gill’s foot or something, fake crystal?? Not impressed.
Artificial and undercooked. These words kind of define his writing. The tragedies never made me feel bad for the characters that were in it. In the book, the poor kid, is a motherless kid who lives with his ailing father, who coughs (!!!!). Their stove takes ‘six’ times to start. These guys are really poor. I don’t know how many of such people put a ‘warm water bottle’ to their head when they are having a headache, as the father did in the novel. People like this don’t give a shit about headaches; headaches are never ever considered an ailment worthy of thought.
(This, some years later in the story) The poor kid’s father always wanted him to go to IIT. But he fails to get good score even after dropping a year. Here is an excerpt of when the kid breaks the news to his father:
‘I wanted to tell him that I did work hard. You do not get a fifty thousand rank, however useless that may be, without working hard. I wanted to say I felt fucked up inside. I wished he would figure out, I wanted to cry and that it would be great if he hugged me.
“Go away. Let me have some peace in my final days.” He (the father) said.’
Now who the f’k says that? Let me have some peace in my final days? The stupidity of this dialogue is stupendous but it somehow sounds familiar…yea, from the millions of movies. 70’s movies. But even that is a surface-wound compared to the senselessness of ‘great if he hugged me’. Why? This needs a little deeper analysis.
The analysis: “Wish he hugged me”. This, in its levels of stupidity, is very similar to an Airtel ad which aired some time back. The ad was about an offer through which some kids would be chosen to participate in some European soccer club’s training camp. The ad sang something like this:
“Are You Readayyy?
Are you ready for Football?
Ready to go far?
Are You ready to be a (Airtel’s) Rising Star?”
Oh I always wanted to be a ‘rising star’. Wish he hugged me.
For quite some time I could not really put my finger on what exactly was wrong with these two sentences. Do you see it? Both of these things, people do not wish for ‘themselves’. It is almost always a third person’s point of view. People call us the rising star. We never see ourselves as a rising star (Who ever says that he wants to ‘show promise’ when he grows up. Getting my point?). Similarly, people wish somebody gave us a hug when we were down. We don’t wish for ourselves, at least not at that moment (we might when we look back at it in future). Not that we don’t want the hug or don’t like it, but if the situation at hand is so problematic that it warrants a hug, we rather are searching for its solution or some sort of respite than a hug, though it would be hugely comforting.
Let me continue this in a third part. There is so much frustration inside me right now.