Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020

‘Love is what your parents give you if you clear the IIT exam’ is how a hapless hero defines the emotion in Chetan Bhagat’s fifth and latest novel, Revolution 2020. This is the IIT/IIM product and best-selling writer’s first book after he quit his banking job and went fulltime. The move shows in the perceptibly clear evolution of his craft. Bhagat who is described by The Times of India as the ‘rock star of Indian publishing’, has matured as a spinner of yarns but does not yet venture out of his comfort zone in the choice of storyline. He peoples his work with mostly yuppie and wannabe somebodys who manage to remain endearing underdogs hovering on the fringes of success in career and life. The novel’s subtitle ‘Love. Corruption. Ambition’ pretty much sums up the multiple strands woven seamlessly into the plot such as the love triangle among Aarti, Raghav and Gopal as well as what happens to their individual career dreams and the reality which is inevitably something else. The story is set in Varanasi for the most part. Bhagat employs his usual prologue and epilogue to show us that it germinated from a real life encounter. The story unfolds and flows through dialogues more than extraneous details. This non-intrusive writing style also makes the reader an active participant in the creative act. This is perhaps why millions of Indian youngsters identify with Bhagat’s heroes and heroines. His five books taken together showcase a cross section of Indian youth in their teens and twenties who sweat it out at entrance tuitions, engineering colleges, business management colleges, call centers and painstaking entrepreneurship. The narrator- protagonist is at heart idealistic but many a quirk of circumstance prods him on to tread the edgy routes to upward mobility. All the three central characters face this dilemma. It is in this aspect that Bhagat scores heavily. His O Henryian twists are genuinely marvelous and personally that is what makes a reader like me make that beeline on the release date itself like kids once used to do for Harry Potter. Plus he is non-judgmental. The suspense element of the love triangle is maintained throughout the book. One cannot but chuckle seeing how the girl yo-yos between the guys and how this is not wholly uninfluenced by the fluctuations in their personal successes. But towards the end there is a slight rush, as if the writer realized that this story is getting a little long-winded and has to be brought to a stop. So our manipulative hero (I won’t reveal which one) plays a trump card too many and arm-wrestles matters his way. The city of Varanasi where people come to dump their sins in the Ganga is an apt metaphor for the criminalization of higher education in the country. The book’s title draws from just one of the threads of the story and that could be misleading. What I did not like about the book is the at times syrupy romantic musings of Gopal which even for a fickle-minded drifter like him is puerile. Among Chetan Bhagat’s books that were filmed so far, Five Point Someone, with three years of solid screenplay development and rework by Bollywood, became one of its biggest Indian movie successes in 3 Idiots. However One Night @ The Call Center when it became the movie Hello flopped miserably. The movie rights of 2 States: The Story of My Marriage is already bought. The third book, The 3 Mistakes of My Life which concocts a heady combination of politics, religion and cricket gets the lowest rating in my view. Revolution 2020 will make a very good movie, in the right hands. Again one should suppose it will bloom in the hands of a Rajkumar Hirani but could likely wilt in the hands of someone less imaginative. The 296 page book is definitely worth a read. The Rs 95 price of olden days is history, this one costs a solid 140 bucks, but then it is also the price of a hearty meal at a fast food joint.

(October 2011)

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