Unloved but unaffected

Ambika Shaligram
Sunday, 9 September 2018

Chetan Bhagat, who launched a trailer to promote his upcoming book, The Girl in Room 105 - An Unlove Story, tells us that innovative marketing techniques are the need of the hour. In a telephonic chat, he quite nonchalantly dismisses his naysayers

With the trailer launch of his upcoming book, The Girl in Room 105 — An Unlove Story, Chetan Bhagat has once again laid himself open to criticism from bibliophiles and appreciation from his readers. The trailer, starring Vikrant Massey, directed by Mohit Suri, was launched in Mumbai last week. It was a well-thought out marketing move, one which is intended at wooing readers back to the old format of reading — by buying a book.

If this sounds contradictory, Bhagat has an explanation, “A lot of us are addicted to our smart phones, watching videos on them. I kept wondering how we could bring them back to the reading culture. One of the ways I could do that was to show them a video, a format they are used to, to attract them. The video concludes on a cliffhanger, and I hope it piques the curiosity of the people so that they pick up the book. This is marketing and you need innovative ways to market a book. I want to make book reading cool again.”

Trust the former banker-management student to use a marketing strategy to drive the momentum for the sales of his book. He wants a million copies of his books to be sold, which might not be an impossible dream, considering Bhagat has signed a global book deal with Amazon. The Girl in Room 105... published by Westland, is the first in the series. With ‘an unlove story’ tag, Bhagat has yet again invited ire and scorn from some quarters — how can it be unlove, when the guy is stalking his ex on social media? (as seen in the trailer).
Speaking of the trailer, there’s a scene in which Keshav Rajpurohit (Massey) casually says, “Did I mention that my father is in the RSS?” This dialogue acquires potency and urgency when he adds that his ex-girlfriend is a Kashmiri Muslim, and the occupant of the Room 105. 

Kashmir, Kashmiri Muslim girl, a Hindu guy, all the elements are combustible enough to blow up into a conflagration, when the book hits the stands in October. How is Bhagat bracing himself for the trouble that might erupt? What does he anticipate from the right-wingers, liberals and other politicians? To which he responds, “All I can tell them is ‘Calm down’ and look at it the way it is. It’s a positive book. See, I can’t keep in mind everybody when I write. I don’t think there is anything offensive or controversial in the book. These are the realities of India — RSS exists, Kashmir exists, Kashmir problem exists and so do our prejudices. I haven’t created these issues, nor am I glorifying them. I am just using them as a backdrop for the story that I want to tell.” 

The story falls somewhere in the ‘fun-thriller’ genre, says Bhagat. But aren’t thrillers supposed to be edgy? “This is something akin to movies like Ocean’s 11. They are fun. In the movie, someone is being murdered and at the same time, the person perpetrating it might be feeling hungry,” he adds.
The girl in room...is also an evolution of sorts in Bhagat’s writing. Or so he says. From wooing a girl, to convincing parents and getting married (2 States, for instance), now the heroes of his books will learn how to unlove. What does unlove mean? 
The author replies, “I think it’s the process of getting over someone. For some people, it is easy, for some, it is not. It depends on how close you are to people. Sometimes, we can get very hurt, it affects our lives badly and we take a long time to unlove. I thought a story like that would also be interesting, not so much where you try to know how to woo the girl and fall in love. It’s more about unloving.”

The writer will also be making appearances at literary festivals this year, considering it’s “book year” for Bhagat. When asked how do the literary festivals treat him, he says, “I am doing Bangalore Lit Fest and Jaipur Lit Fest and one more fest. This is a book year for me. Contrary to popular belief, I am invited regularly, but I go rarely. I think the organisers know exactly what I am doing and that’s why they invite me, to hook readers. Just because 20 people (on Twitter) are behaving like snobs, it doesn’t mean that the world is like that, no?” 
But it’s their opinions which make the most noise, don’t they?
“No,” counters Bhagat, adding, “they make the most noise if the media gives them the platform. If people talking on streets, who have no credibility, are given a platform, then the joke is on us.”

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