I hadn’t read any books by Chetan Bhagat until a friend passed on 2 States to me and asked me to read it. I took my time getting to read the book and when I did I finished it pretty fast.
I didn’t like the book well enough to read Bhagat’s other work but I now get why people read his books. The book was fast-paced, the story was reasonably good and overall, the book was entertaining. In fact, the book reminded me of Bollywood.
Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read about why I didn’t enjoy 2 States. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner talks about “the fictive dream” and how good fiction makes readers feel like they are part of a dream. He also mentions how writers can, by doing various things wrong, jar readers awake. When I read 2 States, at times the writing snapped me out of “the fictive dream” and some plot twists felt too convenient. So, I am probably not going to read Bhagat’s novels again because it’s hard for me to ignore these things.
Coming back to Bollywood. I don’t watch too many Bollywood movies because, most of the time, I find it hard to deal with the interruptions: the needless songs, the unbelievable plot twists, the (sometimes) over-acting, etc. But, I get that millions of people find that Bollywood movies are a great source of entertainment.
Similarly, I can see why so many people find Bhagat’s work enjoyable. Critics who are mystified by his success need to look at Bollywood’s. The mantra in Bollywood is entertainment and that’s what Bhagat delivers to his fans. It’s one of the reasons that he’s been so successful.
A great many people read to be entertained and if Bhagat is giving them what they want, why should we begrudge him the success he’s had. At least he’s getting people to read books.
PS: I enjoyed reading this Caravan essay about Bhagat’s popularity: Paperback Messiah