Chetan Bhagat is the classic outsider.
While his investment banking colleagues in Hong Kong traded hard and partied harder, Bhagat spent his down time nurturing his hobby of writing.
When he eventually became India’s biggest-selling author, his work – with its unadorned prose and sentimentality – was derided by critics and the literary set, ever keen to look down their powdered noses at this young upstart who hadn’t “suffered” for “their” art.
“The book critics, they all hate me”, Bhagat once said.
When he attends promotional events for movie adaptations of his books, he is forced to hang back while the crowds go mental for the stars playing the characters Bhagat has developed.
Despite his outsider status, Bhagat has had the – rather raucous – last laugh.
Books like ‘Five Point Someone’, ‘One Night @ the Call Centre’ and the ‘3 Mistakes of My Life’ have sold tens of millions of copies.
Their movie adaptations – ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Hello’ and ‘Kai Po Che’, respectively – have become commercial and critical successes: the charming ‘3 Idiots’, in fact, remains Bollywood’s biggest box office smash (‘Dhoom 3’ opened at twice as many theatres AND had its prices hiked up to 30%).
His latest Bollywood project is arguably his most challenging yet.
‘2 States’, starring Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor’, is the big-screen adaptation of Bhagat’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name and tells the story of the author’s romance and marriage to fellow Indian Institute of Management alumnus Anusha Surya Narayanan.
Bhagat has always maintained that the book is a work of fiction although the similarities are stark: a boy from a red-blooded Punjabi family marries a Tamilian girl from Chennai.
Cue plenty of quips about skin tone, accents, caste, education and statistics on literacy.
I caught up with Bhagat during a whirlwind promotional visit to London to talk India’s north-south divide, political correctness and literary greatness.