The Man With The Numbers

Chetan Bhagat on his new book, writing Kick and India’s youth

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Flipkart ran a front-page advertisement in The Times of India for your new book, Half Girlfriend, in return for the exclusive rights to sell the book online for three months. They spent Rs 2.4 crore on the ad and will need to sell more than 5,00,000 books to recover the cost. Do you think they will manage that? Also, why did you decide to trust Flipkart to be the sole online retailer of Half Girlfriend?

The ad was Flipkart’s decision, and they took it based on the anticipated demand and excitement for the book. They are quite happy with the response they received. Pre-orders are at record levels, and Flipkart also achieves branding benefits and customer acquisition through this promotion. Hence, it isn’t a simple break-even cost calculation for the ad. Flipkart has an online exclusive for three months — two months for pre-orders and one month after the release (in October). We believe they are the best, most visible online retailer in the country. The book will also be available in bookshops.

Are you obsessed with numbers? Almost all your book titles have one in them. One night, Five point, Three mistakes, Two states and now Half girlfriend.
Yes. A little bit. I am an engineer and worked in a bank for 11 years. I like numbers, and that was my world. The number in the title is a reminder, a little vestigial organ from my past.

You have often been commended for your business strategy of writing book and then selling their movie rights. Why not just write screenplays then? What attracts you towards writing a book?
I don’t make the film. A film-maker and a lot of talented people have to be interested in making a film and they approach me to do it. My books work quite well standalone, selling in the millions, with or without a film. Films are a by-product, and a high-profile one, but in my heart I am an author. I did do the screenplay for Kick (the Salman Khan movie that released in July), but that was just for the experience.

Since your initial success, there have been several writers who have written books in the same genre and attained success. Do you think there is a danger of paperbacks becoming a fad?
I don’t believe in classifications such as paperback and hardback, or in genres — they are nothing but affectations. People read a book if they enjoy it, or if it engages them, or if it teaches them something. The size of the book, the thickness of the binding or the label you put on it doesn’t matter. This is obviously not a fad because books have lasted thousands of years. People will read what is relevant to them.

Man Booker shortlists often have an Indian author, or an author of Indian origin. This year it is Neel Mukherjee. Do you read the Man Booker nominated books?
I have read several of them and I think they are good books, even though the type of book that wins changes every year. I don’t aspire for the Booker. I don’t even think I have the talent for it. That said, I don’t even think it is the ultimate level an author should aspire to. It is a prize for books published in the UK by authors from the Commonwealth countries (American authors have been included in 2014). An Indian writer writing with Indian sensibilities in mind, publishing in India, is neither eligible to apply nor someone in the jury is likely to fancy.

Ashwin Sanghi has collaborated with James Patterson recently. Is there an international author you would like to co-write a book with?
I don’t think I would co-author a book. I think it is okay to do so for screenplays, as films are a collaborative effort. However, not for a book, at least for me.

Which one film’s screenplay do you wish you had written?
There are so many. The Social Network has an amazing screenplay.

 You are considered a youth icon. What are the youth of this country doing wrong according to you?
I am not a youth icon. I am just a writer who got lucky, who likes to write and people still like to read. But, I think the youth lack role models and direction and an overall perspective on life. There is a rush towards materialism without enough life-planning.

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I would be more disciplined about my fitness. In fact, that is what I am going to do next year.

Image Source: Getty Images

Bhagat introduced Johnnie Walker Blue Label’s film, Gentlemen’s Wager, starring Jude Law, last month.