I am not a great fan of Chetan Bhagat's writing. However I am one of the biggest fans of his success. I am amazed at the number of books he sells, at his popularity and at how, almost all his books get made into movies. If there is one superstar writer we have in India, it is Chetan Bhagat. The numbers support him, the movies support him, his following supports him. I have read all his books to date - funnily never bought one for myself and was always gifted the books by someone. I found 2 States to be his best in all. They are easy to read.
Revolution 2020 has a tag - Love. Corruption. Ambition. So if you have followed Chetan Bhagat's opinions and columns you know fairly well what to expect. The novel is set in modern day Varanasi, the place where everyone goes to cleanse their sins (I liked the setting and the irony behind it) and has three youngsters who grow up together from school days on - Gopal Mishra, the loser who made it big through some corrupt practices, Aarti, the girl who keeps shuttling between the two men, and Raghav Kashyap, the brilliant and idealistic student who lets go a possibly lucrative career as an engineer to be an honest journalist. The novel begins with Gopal Mishra, the 26 year old Director of Ganga Tech educational institutes who has invited the famous writer Chetan Bhagat to a talk at his college. This bit of self-indulgence by Chetan Bhagat always jars - I think he used it in 'One Night at a Call Centre' where the co-passenger is telling the story to Chetan Bhagat the writer.
Anyway love first. Gopal loves Aarti. Aarti loves Raghav. Gopal lusts for Aarti. Aarti does not lust for Gopal. Raghav loves journalism.
How the most beautiful daughter of the District Magistrate of a town like Varanasi has only two guy friends, one of them living in really impoverished circumstance and is a self-confessed loser, is a mystery. But the girl does behave as if she is in hostel and away from all kinds of supervision, and goes on boat rides, CCDs and has no other friends other than these two. How the triangle ends up is what you must read the book for because Aarti behaves like a schizophrenic, two timing the guys, hanging out with losers, sleeping with the one whom she does not love etc and you have no clue what she will finally do.
Corruption. Gopal Mishra, the loser, teams up fortuitously with the big bad MLA Shukla and starts an Engineering college. Chetan Bhagat tells us in great detail of how to go about starting an educational institution - including getting land, clearances, permissions, approvals from the AICTE, affiliation from the University, recruiting staff and the amount and kinds of bribes involved etc. For all those who want to start educational institutions or colleges specifically, this is a must read. MLA Shukla and his protege Gopal bribe everyone to get the job done and that is no surprise, in India everyone bribes everyone and everyone knows that. Why Raghav is shocked is a mystery. MLA Shukla is also steeped in corruption by swallowing the funds meant for the Ganga Action Project.
Ambition is limited. Raghav Kahsyap the idealist has an ambition of rooting out corruption single handedly and to me his life span appeared limited with the kind of risky work he does by taking on all the big corrupt people like Shukla. But he gives up his ambitions quickly and joins back a job. Aarti's ambitions, surprisingly for the daughter of a DM, are very middle class - she wants to be an air hostess, marry a loser and cook - or a variant of an air hostess like a 'boat hostess' and finally settles for a guest relations executive job in a 5 star hotel in Varanasi. For the most beautiful girl in Varanasi (she is shown as being rather dumb as well, which is the saving grace) this was a comedown I felt. Gopal Mishra has no real ambition and shows no inclination - he is just pitched into the scene because he has the land - and after that Shulklaji takes over. Left to himself he would not have done much in my opinion.
Frankly there is no revolution, only the promise of one. Raghav has dreams of a revolution which he names his newspaper 'Revolution 2020' but he winds up being the son-in-law of the DM and contesting the elections because his father-in-law is being asked by various parties to contest. Where is the revolution in this man who does not have clarity about whether he wants the girl, the career as a journalist, the elections? So this is not about revolution for sure because he goes back and joins the newspaper after his small R2020 joint gets smashed by Shukla's men. Of ambition I found nothing. Of love I am most confused. What Aarti, the most beautiful, sees in Gopal who always displays signs from school of being a loser is anyone's guess (but she is shown as getting 20 marks out of 80 which explains it). What Gopal wants from her is also not clear - love, sex, marriage - for he is all the time trying to kiss her despite her obvious lack of interest in him. Why these three have no life, no interests, specially the girl, apart the other two is not clear either. Aarti shows no character as she flits between the two clandestinely, jumps into bed with one while still calling the other her boyfriend. Gopal has no interest in women save this girl as the two interesting call girls realise late in the book. Raghav has no interest even in the most beautiful girl. Their love is a mystery.
The plus point is that this book can be read like the wind. I finished the 293 page book in about 4-5 hours which means that you can skim through and skip generous portions and still stay on course and even predict like we do with some Bollywood movies. I was hoping that something drastic would happen to Raghav who to me was the sole hope of the book, or that he would do something like killing someone by the end, but Raghav tamely goes back to work and being some kind of a ghar jamai, in all likelihood taking the tickets offered to his father in law. How can I expect a revolution from someone like that? To make Gopal Mishra seem like the victim, or the sacrificing hero, was not really what I expected - why he does what he does in the end is a mystery to me. Does he want the girl or not? Or by some chance, is the revolution about him and his new found purpose of making wonderful educational institutions?
Chetan Bhagat does not explore the characters deeply enough to get to their feeling level. If he had, this book would have had way more potential. Gopal, if the bad guy, should have remained true to the character and not turned over a new leaf. Aarti, should have had some reason, something that makes her do what she does with these two losers. Raghav remains true to himself and looked to me the only redeeming character until Bhagat decides to make Gopal the sacrificing hero and makes Raghav join the band of losers.
Another 100 pages, deeper darker emotions, love, passion and ambition that burns the characters, that puts them in dilemmas, and in destiny's hands, of youngsters and their choices - now that would have been the book it could have been. But we are left with no feeling - not when there is death, when there is failure, when there is betrayal, when there is love. (Like for example their first sexual encounter - and the two feel nothing! We never know what they are feeling at this intimate encounter except that Gopal has a tough time getting her jeans off her.) Sadly to me, Chetan Bhagat wastes a wonderful opportunity to make something really big and instead chooses to indulge himself, his fans and Bollywood directors looking for scripts by making frivolous and superficial characters when in fact he could have made firebrand characters. For someone of his following who could have really sparked a revolution, Chetan Bhagat chooses the easy way out and stays in his territory, safe. R2020 to me, goes to the bottom of his list so far in my ranking, more so because '2 States' showed much promise and R2020 promised much too. Unless you are planning to start a college, nothing much in the book for the reader. Skip it unless you are a Chetan Bhagat fan or a basher.