Another one of Chetan Bhagat’s unreadable works of fiction gets an infusion of life by the commercial geniuses of Indian cinema
Sonali Ghosh Sen Delhi
In a 1981 interview to The Paris Review, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked how successfully a book translated to good cinema. “I can’t think of any one film that improved on a good novel, but I can think of many good films that came from very bad novels,” he replied.
While some may disagree on this with the Nobel Prize-winning author, it does ring true for Chetan Bhagat’s novels. Even though he churns out one bestseller after another, Bhagat’s writing does not stand out either for its sparkling prose or visual imagery, and he has a tin ear for dialogue. Despite this, his books seem to be script magnets for filmmakers with four out of his five novels having got a screen avatar. So what makes Bhagat so popular with Bollywood?
One of the reasons could be what’s in the novel and not how he writes about it. Bhagat’s stories are about middle class lives, dreams and aspirations, and run the gamut from love marriages and dysfunctional families to call centres and the IIT campus. Simply put, Bhagat’s stories give filmmakers a broad enough canvas to paint their own vision on. Some filmmakers apply broad brushstrokes to the novel’s plot like Rajkumar Hirani in 3 Idiots, and make it their own unforgettable brand of storytelling, while others take out the unnecessary melodrama and stick to spare storytelling like Kai Po Che director Abhishek Kapoor, and some just depend on a Salman Khan cameo to make the film work.
With 2 States it’s a double whammy. It’s not just a bestselling Bhagat novel brought to life onscreen, but it is also produced by Karan Johar and Sajid Nadiadwala, czars of commercial cinema. So it’s surprising that debutant director Abhishek Varma strays from the lavish Dharma production settings, and sticks close to Bhagat’s narrative, and even his writing style, especially when he has material like this to work with: “If there is nothing as attractive as a pretty girl, there is nothing as repulsive as a cocky chick.” Thankfully, the first shot of a kurta-clad Alia Bhatt is enough to tell even the grammatically challenged that she is definitely the best-looking girl on campus, saving us the 20 references to the strange moniker, ‘Ms Best Girl’ given in the book. The talented duo of Arjun Kapoor (playing Krish) and Bhatt makes dialogues that sound clunky in print come alive onscreen. Their chemistry is crackling as they exchange one repartee after another, singing and dancing their way through an MBA at IIM-Ahmedabad (yes, you read that right, fake snow and all). With the arrival of the parents, it’s now Krish and Ananya’s turn to woo them — first in Chennai and then in Delhi. As it is a semi-autobiographical novel, it is set in the 1990s, but in commercial film Neverland, these things get hazy, and if you haven’t read the novel, you’d be surprised to see Krish help his future father-in-law navigate the joys of PowerPoint, but that’s just a minor hiccup. For the most part, the director’s touch is light, and the first half is breezy and entertaining. It’s only in the second half, where the big emotional guns need to be pulled out, that the script falters, as there’s too much of conflict, too little of resolution. Despite a talented supporting cast of Revathy, Amrita Singh , Ronit Roy and Shiv Subramaniam as the four warring in-laws, the proceedings drag and unnecessary angst replaces the earlier heartfelt moments, as we inch ever so slowly to the ‘Krish weds Ananya’ moment. Eliminating a few sub-plots and slicker editing would have greatly helped both the film and the audience.
In the final analysis, the film almost strikes the right formula of love and drama needed for blockbuster status and is in audience speak “worth a one-time watch”, but not much more than that. Even if 2 States is not the mega hit that the Aamir Khan-starrer 3 Idiots was, the numbers indicate that we can look forward to more Bhagat novels and films in the future. Sigh.