The all in all of everything there has been, is there and ever will be in Indian Bubblegum literature has released his latest piece de resistance. Chetan Bhagat (CB) is <insert whatever you want here> because more than he merits has been said about him already. I did like his Five Point Someone and 2 States to an extent. Let me just cut to the chase and start looking at his latest work to see what the man has unleashed upon us this time.
Introduction and First Views on the Book.
(I did not pre-order, but picked up a copy from Axis Books, Domlur, Bangalore, on the day of the launch)
Chetan Bhagat returns with another offering of angst, love, masala and engineering courses, but thankfully keeps away from IIT/IIMs this time and decides to focus on the most important question plaguing the youth of the nation today. No, it is not about how to get laid, but more importantly, how to become a B. Tech Victim! The first part of the book is about the struggle the average Indian Joe goes through to get through to an engineering college so that he can change the world and get all the chicks. The second part focuses on all the corruption that plagues the private education sector and how even though you might make it large and get laid, it will still not get you away from your conscience. Though he tries hard, the attempt falls flat on it's face as so much as I am concerned. The book fails to make any impact, though it tells a pretty good story.
The writing is juvenile, as expected, almost of Mills & Boon standards. Yes, it makes for easy reading and you might like it if you are content with such material. But is devoid of wit, has no insights and is mostly made up of a procession of bland uninspired dialogue, GMail chat sessions, missed calls and descriptions. Totally predictable after the first half, it leaves you bewildered and mildly depressed by the time you get to the end. He also speaks about the despair, frustration and angst that one might not make the cut in life. He must be speaking from experience, because I know I have gone through all this. If only he had focused on writing instead of marketing and kept away from the subject of cheesy corruption, this could have been much much better.
The Story, Characters, Buildup and Such. (Some Spoilers)
Revolution 2020 is put across as the story of life and times of three friends, as narrated to Chetan Bhagat by Gopal Mishra, the 26-year-old director of GangaTech Institute of Technology, Varanasi, chief protagonist of he story. Gopal, Aarti and Raghav grew up together is Varanasi. Raghav is the topper: smart, intelligent and multi talented, considered a shoo-in for IITs and most likely to make it big in life. Aarti Pradhan is the cliched uber-pretty girl, not particularly interested in studies and like any other small town girl dreams of becoming an air-hostess and wants to find a safe nest in life. Gopal Mishra is the strictly average guy with average skills and average grades. He wants to make it big in life and marry Aarti by becoming an engineer (of all things), but can't even crack AIEEE and/or JEE. Hailing from a lower middle class family, he gets the short end of life's stick with a dead mother, perennially sick father, no income and swindling relatives. And he takes his travails to heart and develops a major inferiority complex. Yes, the typical loser.
Gopal fails to clear any entrance exam, but Raghav makes it by a mile and joins IT-BHU. Aarti sees Raghav as safe boyfriend/husband material, and chooses him over the loser Gopal. Gopal tries to make the cut the second time squandering away his father's life savings over a year at an entrance coaching centre. Failing which he decides to join ranks with corrupt politicians who help him get back his disputed ancestral property and help him build an engineering college. Meanwhile, Raghav gets a massive kick of righteousness and decides to change the country. He chucks an offer he gets from Infosys and takes up journalism, interning with a newspaper. Later he starts up his own paper named "Revolution 2020". Gopal achieves everything he dreamed of in life, but remains miserable. He still tries to woo Aarti with his riches and tries to get her away from Raghav, who is busy changing the world and has little time for her anyway.
Who will get the girl? The miserable but successful and corrupt loser or the failed but upright nerd? And who will make out with whom? #ImportantQuestions
The Book, The Writing, The Review and Such.
The story is a narrative in first person as all of his books are. But this time, instead of a character or CB narrating the story to the reader, the protagonist tells his story to Chetan Bhagat directly. The book begins with a self-narrated prologue with CB playing himself. He gives us a glimpse into his new-found stardom by throwing around not so subtle hints about his greatness. He addresses himself as the Chetan Bhagat, talks about security cordons being arranged for him, throws around humble references about his past accomplishments, hints about how someone had to write to him twenty times before he agreed to go for an inauguration and so on.
The book is almost tailor-made for the millions in the Chetan Bhagat market demographic, peppered with narratives many people of the age group might directly connect with. He tells a good story but CB looks like he forgot that he was writing a novel, and not narrating a script. Almost the entirety of the novel is filled with the endless dialogue parade of "He said this, She said that, He then said this....", mainly between Aarti and Gopal, which almost reminded me of the "Aur kya?" "Tum batao" conversations that take up hours but never reach anywhere. At one point I felt like saying: "Dude, Gopal, move on. There are other things to get ahead in life than an engineerign degree and there are other girls besides Aarti. Let go." The second half is more intense, but there too he does not succeed in describing the growth of the characters other than Gopal still gunning after Aarti, he even fails to evoke any anger towards the corrupt MLA. I would rather think the MLA helped Gopal by pulling strings to get his ancestral property back and helping him reach somewhere in life. His manipulative relatives probably deserved it for making him go through all that he and his father had endured.
The book almost totally talks about the question of love. As it always is, the girl chooses the successful guy who might make it big in life over the loser with the 50-thousand something AIEEE rank. The protagonist becomes a OMR-drinking Devdas, perplexed about why the girl ditched him though they were childhood friends and he had professed his love towards her many times. And that follows questions and quotes on love scattered throughout the book such as: "Love is a bitch", "Sometimes your heart can lead you to a dead end" and so on, directly aimed to be picked up by readers, almost like strategically placed keywords in an article for easy indexing by Googlebots.
The book feels hurriedly written, there are no satirical cliches or situational analogies that are stock features of a CB book. Even the general humor is missing. There is no character engagement and development. Other than what they talk, we know precious little about the characters. Little is explained about Gopal other than the over-emphasis on how big a loser he is and how miserable his existence is, CB has gone overboard romanticizing the "loser" theme. Aarti is put across as a confused girl who really can't make up her mind on anything, but nothing is said about her magical characters that make Gopal attracted towards her. Well, it is also not even told if Raghav really loves her except for a kiss behind a tree!. What made her choose Raghav over Gopal and what endeared him to her? And we know nothing about Raghav other than he is a painfully upright and typical cliched "topper". There is a pall of gloom almost permanently hanging over the story. Many characters appear suddenly and disappear without a trace, the reason for their presence in the story left unexplained. The characters do not linger on my mind, as does Krish of 2 States or Ryan of FPS.
Verdict and Final Views
If you are a Chetan Bhagat fan, and like millions of others who don't read anything else, you will love this. If you are not, I still recommend you read this, you might learn something. CB tries to combine a triangular love story which does not really build up on one side and politics and corruption on the other hand, but falls short by a mile and ends up delivering another piece of chicklit bubblegum fare with more "love" rather than corruption or ambition present. The climax was well executed, but is bewildering. However, I agree with some of his viewpoints: Private education should be allowed to be run for profit. That is the only way to eradicate corruption from the field, and taxes for profit so obtained should be high. You cannot expect the state to provide top-quality education for everyone!
On the book, it was a well thought out story but poorly executed. Maybe it was all deliberate, the man knows his marketing. Or maybe he was in a hurry or he got complacent. Or maybe he wanted to directly connect with his target audience. Though I am sure there are millions who loved the book because it connected with them, I found it uninspiring though I am familiar with many situations in the book. Maybe because I grew up reading a lot of "heavy literature" which was prescribed to me though I preferred Hardy Boys and Archie.
Or maybe I have become too old for this.