Book Review: Revolution 2020
Like a Michael Bay blockbuster, a Chetan Bhagat novel is defiant of structural norms (whether plot- or grammar-wise), implausibly stupid (watch the latest Transformers to know what we mean), and guaranteed to make boatloads of money despite what the crabby naysayers think about it. Wade in, then, at your own peril, because if you’re a fan of Rushdie, Roy, Mistry or Ghosh, then you’ll emerge 296 pages later, doubtlessly depressed at the ways of the world that allow for Bhagat to be the country’s best-selling literary star.
In Bhagat’s latest, Revolution 2020—about the current topic du jour, corruption—language, plot, character development and just about anything that vaguely defines what makes a good book (but only to elitist prigs, of course) take a back seat to the notion that the author is a weather-vane for current youth sentiment. That sentiment is the pervasive feeling that our education system is corrupt. Add to this a prologue and epilogue of such incredible conceit and you have another best-seller in the making.
The novel begins with Bhagat visiting GangaTech college in Varanasi to deliver a speech. There, he meets Gopal, the 26-year-old protagonist, whose sole purpose, it soon becomes clear, is to try and ply Bhagat with drinks so he can deliver this line: “Chetan sir, one drink? I can tell people I had a drink with ‘the’ Chetan Bhagat.” Somehow, Bhagat ends up accompanying the self-indulgent, sniveling Gopal to hospital after he over-binges, on Glenfiddich of all things. Gopal survives of course, so he can recount to Bhagat his life story. The life story, predictably, is a love story, or rather a love triangle involving Gopal, and childhood friends Raghav and Aarti. Gopal is poor, Raghav is middle class and Aarti well-off, each meant to neatly represent the background to which they belong. As is wont to happen with a trio of friends, one (Gopal) falls in love with another (Aarti), who professes her love for the third (Raghav). So far, so average.
Soon, however, Gopal, in his vengeful quest to show Aarti that he’s a better man than Raghav (spoiler alert: he’s not), becomes embroiled in a shady nexus of MLAs and educators, who want Gopal to start a university—that would be GangaTech—so it can whitewash their black money. Cue moral story about the unethical nature of coaching classes that prep students for the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE); doing the right thing; and the cost of sacrifice and familial duty. Bhagat may have lashed out at Narayana Murthy for saying that coaching classes have led to the deterioration of the quality of IIT- and IIM-produced students, but his book perplexingly suggests exactly the same thing. So either Bhagat doesn’t believe what he espouses, or quite possibly, forgot what he wrote in the first place. After all, he started writing it almost two years ago.
The language, incidentally, functional and capable of getting across its point, is not the worst part of the book (though bon mots like “‘Fine’ means somewhere between ‘whatever’ and ‘go to hell’ in Girlese” and “Girls are contradictory” border on being nonsensical). Its weakest link is that all three protagonists are inherently unlikable—it’s not quite clear what Aarti has going for her except her looks; Gopal is weaselly, stupid and self-obsessed; and Raghav, an incredibly naïve journalist who writes worse copy than Bhagat himself. But bad reviews will do little to affect the sales figures of Revolution 2020. At the end of the novel, Bhagat tells Gopal that he’s a good person, presumably for—whoops, second spoiler alert—sacrificing love, and the implication is that it’s okay to be mediocre as long as you make money. Bhagat may well have been talking about himself.
Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat, Rupa, Rs140. Buy it from Flipkart.com.