Chetan Bhagat’s books have sold in millions, and his new book, Revolution 2020, is eagerly anticipated by his readers. Critics may turn up their nose, but his novels strike a chord with the young and the restless. He is also gaining traction as a commentator, on television as well as print, on current issues. The third hat he wears is of a motivational speaker. He has been invited by corporations like Bharti, Citibank, HCL and many others to give a pep talk to their employees.
In a Q&A published on his site, Bhagat explains how motivational talks came about: “The motivational talks, I admit, happened by accident. I gave a speech titled Sparks at Symbiosis College, and the text of it became viral. Soon, I started getting invitations and hence the new avatar came about.” He goes on to add what differentiates him from others (like Shiv Khera and Kapil Dev): “I keep my talks light, personal and honest. I do not consciously try and motivate people, but many have said they feel inspired when they hear me talk live. I am thankful for the gift God has given me, for there are few things in life as wonderful as touching people in a positive manner.”
Susan Visvanathan, professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says what works in Bhagat’s favour is his huge success as a writer. “The readers probably see him as an inspiration and want to know what made it work for him,” she says. In his Sparks speech, Bhagat talked about disappointments, frustrations, isolation and unfairness — something all students would have encountered at one time or the other. “It’s the context which strikes a chord with many,” says the HR head of a bank which has invited Bhagat on a couple of occasions. “Some of our employees who didn’t have a great opinion of his books did feel uncomfortable about the idea, but overall he was a hit amongst them.”
“You can have a negative opinion about his books and writing but the fact is he enjoys cult status among the youth of today,” says Visvanathan. To see the kind of following Bhagat enjoys one just needs to go to his official website and see the comments people leave. One example of it is this comment which was made soon after he announced that his book will hit the stands in October 2011. “Hello Chetan bhai.. I really excited about your upcoming book... Revolution 2020 Its Sounds really good... Can't Wait for October. Please Issue it soon na... I m dying To read (sic) that book... Love and regards, XYX.” This is just one of the thousands of comments posted on his site.
Sanket Srivastava, a TCS employee, attended one of Bhagat's sessions and says that as a speaker he is witty, throws in quotes which connect with the audience and comes across as “one of us”. “We all felt that here is this intelligent IIT and IIM graduate, an investment banker, and yet he made a career out of something he loved.” Add quotes like “the world’s most sensible person and the biggest idiot both stay within us; the worst part is, you can't even tell who is who”, and you can see why the audience loves him.
It is this which clicks with the audience and separates him from the other best-selling authors like Amitav Ghosh and Shobhaa De. Bhagat also markets himself well as far as motivational talks are concerned. There's a separate section on his website that contains details on how to invite him and what he brings to the table if you invite him as a speaker. While other authors may enjoy critical acclaim, it's Bhagat who is India’s cult fiction writer. Small surprise then, that people are eagerly waiting for his new book and companies and educational institutes are making a beeline to invite him to lift the morale of their employees.