Letting go of love

20 Apr 2019 / 10:53 H.

CHETAN BHAGAT is perhaps best known for his 2004 book, Five Point Someone, that popular 2009 Hindi movie, 3 Idiots, is based on.

For his eighth novel, The Girl in Room 105, the Indian author gave readers an added dimension to his tale with a ‘book trailer’ when he revealed the book title and cover in September last year.

The trailer shows Bollywood actor Vikrant Massey as Keshav Rajpurohit, the book’s protagonist, telling the viewer that he hates his job, and that after four years, he still can’t get over his ex-girlfriend, Zara Lone.

Rather than choosing to move on, he would drown his long-extended sorrows in alcohol, and call, text, and even stalk her social media – until one night on Zara’s birthday, when he received a text asking to meet in her university hostel room 105.

But after he climbs the mango tree outside her bedroom window in the female-only student accommodation, he finds a tragic scene that puts him on a path of gaining closure.

This is not a typical love story, but one that Bhagat calls an ‘unlove’ story. Straying from the usual subject of romance, The Girl in Room 105 instead becomes a murder-mystery thriller, a first for him in the genre.

“A lot of times, people fall in love but we also live in the unfollow, unlike, unfriend times,” says Bhagat about the meaning of ‘unlove,’ in a recent interview.

“It’s not that easy to ‘unlove’. ‘Unlove’ is a process. It’s not something you decide. You can unfollow a person on Instagram or you can unfriend a person on Facebook quietly, but if you’re in love with someone, then unloving them can take a very long time.”

The Girl in Room 105 also attempts to touch on topics like the Kashmir conflict, by making Zara a Muslim character from the contested region, and Keshav a Rajasthani Hindu, in the plot where prejudice additionally play a role.

In the book, Keshave inadvertently assumes the role of an amateur detective with some help from Saurabh, his best friend and housemate, who also works in the same exam coaching school.

“It’s like desi Sherlock Holmes,” says Bhagat.

There are chapters where Bhagat writes himself into the story, where he meets Keshav onboard a flight, with Keshav telling his ‘unlove’ tale to him the author.

While the interaction in the book is still fiction, he says that incidents like that happen to him all the time, and that he is usually collectively inspired by fans who “talk to me about their lives and things like that”.

According to The 3 Mistakes of My Life and 2 States author – both of which have also been adapted into films – this latest book still has relatability to his fans because the characters are centred around everyday folk.

“They’re not like professional detectives. They’re just normal regular job people who get involved in solving a murder.

“It is a murder mystery but it’s not a full hardcore forensic investigation kind of murder mystery. It’s a ‘light’ murder mystery. It has a lot of comedy. It has got a love story in there because of [the] backstory.”

Directed by Mohit Suri (the same person who directed another Bhagat book-to-film adaptation, Half Girlfriend), Bhagat says this book trailer is intended to pull, particularly, younger readers back to the printed word.

“I’ve been writing for 15 years, and I write for younger people,” he says. “Nowadays, everybody’s addicted to their phones, and I think everybody watches a lot of video content, so books are suffering.

“I had to bring people back to books, so I thought why not make a video which is about a book ... so I made a one-minute trailer, that leaves you wondering what happened – and for that, you got to pick up the book.”

When asked whether The Girl in Room 105 will also be made into a film, Bhagat says that the book promo is “a proper Bollywood trailer”, but it is only for his novel, and that Massey might not even play Keshave should there even be a movie.

He says: “We might consider doing a film adaptation but the trailer doesn’t [hint] at that ... we have not even gone down that road yet.

“What’s for certain, however, is Keshav’s road to unloving.”

As Bhagat puts it about his first thriller, “I wanted to write a story about that because we are living in times where people have like break-offs, and you know, we don’t discuss the process of unloving enough”.

He adds: “The story is not just about him solving a murder but also him coming to terms with himself and trying to get over this person.”

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