First Lady: Chetan Bhagat on One Indian Girl, feminism and writing popular fiction

The biggest selling Indian novelist in history or a literary pariah? Chetan Bhagat discusses his new book, his response to critics and more in this week's edition of First Lady with Meghna Pant.

FP Staff January 12, 2017 16:49:17 IST

The biggest selling Indian novelist in history or a literary pariah? Chetan Bhagat discusses his new book, his response to critics and more in this week's edition of First Lady with Meghna Pant.

Chetan Bhagat needs no introduction. The popular fiction novelist has sold over seven million copies and counting. From his debut novel Five Point Someone to his recent publication One Indian Girl, Bhagat has left his mark in the literary world. That being said, readers and critics alike have lambasted Bhagat's work for being too populist and for pandering to the desires of 'aspirational India'.

But criticism and praise aside, how does a cult personality like Chetan Bhagat emerge from the dying Indian publishing industry? What is the secret to his success?

Bhagat believes that there is little explanation beyond luck. He also adds that while he loves his job, “I don’t take it for granted.” He says that another factor why his writings might be working with the masses is because he doesn’t make sequels and series, and believes in taking his time to write original books instead. He says that maybe his success is an “X-factor you cannot explain.”

So what makes Bhagat choose his next story to tell? “There is no fixed rule. I write stories out of everyday life, and topics that are relevant to a lot of Indians…yet they aren’t spoken as much in public,” he explains.

“There is no fixed rule. I write stories out of everyday life, and topics that are relevant to a lot of Indians… yet they aren’t spoken as much in public,” he explains. These issues include the shortcomings of the education system, inter-community marriages and in his recent book, One Indian Girl, work-family balance for women.

Speaking of his new book, Bhagat tells that a lot of women will 'relate to' One Indian Girl. “Young women are told that you can do anything in life. And they do… society does provide the opportunity… [but] while we do have the institutions for them to be successful, we don’t know what to do with successful women.” Chetan wishes to discuss, through One Indian Girl how society has not evolved to handle empowered women.

But One Indian Girl's trailer drew unanimous flak upon its release. The trailer seemed to take an approach that was completely different from the perspective that Bhagat just mentions about empowered women. Chetan responded to the question about said flak by claiming that the trailer was sarcastic.

When asked about how whether the book's premise merely scratches the surface on the many women's rights issues, Bhagat said that the book, “May not be the most gruesome feminism issue, but it affects a lot of women. Crimes against women are horrible, but it affects say 1-2 percent of women. But women in the workplace, who also want to be a good family person, that affects 80-90 percent of who have to make a choice, which often is a ridiculous one,” he added.

Finally, when asked about whether Bhagat would call himself a good writer, Bhagat says, “It’s very narcissistic to say that, yeah, but I’m not bad”.

First Lady Chetan Bhagat on One Indian Girl feminism and writing popular fiction

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