Author Chetan Bhagat on Friday, while speaking to NDTV, called for restraint on the media coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. "With all respect to Sushant, I loved him... but we have to care for India also. We cannot spend months and months making that (the case) the prime time issue," he said.
Here's the full transcript of his interview with NDTV:
NDTV: Hello and welcome to this special interview. I am joined by Chetan Bhagat. Well, Chetan Bhagat is a best-selling author, he has also become a social commentator. He talks about many things, jobs, the economy, politics and his latest book is now out, 'An Arranged Murder'. Chetan, thanks very much for joining me and of course for those who don't know, he is a former investment banker, also a former IIT and IIM graduate. Chetan, let's just take a clip because interestingly ...
Chetan Bhagat: I have been writing columns for the last 14 years, You know that's why I comment on national issues, I have a column in Dainik Bhaskar which is the biggest Hindi paper and the Times of India is the biggest English paper in the world, so that is why I comment on national issues. You made it sound like I was commenting on social issues and like coming on TV, you know it's not like that.
NDTV: No, in fact, I know you don't like coming on TV that much, only when you get books out. But I wanted to say also because you travel and meet young people. I have to say that what makes your column different is it's based on talking to young people. So, we'll focus a lot on that. But first of course Chetan, you are releasing a book with a bit of a trailer. So, let's just take a look at that.
Chetan Bhagat, so a sensational trailer for what's hopefully a sensational book. But its uncanny how much it seems to resemble what's currently going on. What everyone seems to be talking about, what's on the top of the mind and that's murder, death by suicide, Sushant Singh Rajput and Rhea.
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, and you are into it too, Sonia. The last person I thought will be into it, the last person I thought will be into it. But you are into it, na? You're doing it, you're interviewing people. I mean my gosh.
NDTV: I said, I have to say, it reminded me of when I interviewed Nupur Talwar over a decade ago, but I think the point and this I have made clear, we are not getting into what are crazy theories, but as a news story we will interview the newsmakers of the story.
Chetan Bhagat: Of course, of course, you know, there are two things, one is the case itself and one, like you said, I am an observer and as a writer, I like to observe and this case has, you cannot deny, captured the nation's imagination, you know. And by the way just to make it very, very, clear, One Arranged Murder, the name of my book, is not connected to the Sushant case, it is releasing now but it was actually supposed to come out in April-May. We had made some social media posts on it then; you can go back and see. And then because of COVID, these lockdowns, we decided to not come out, we decided to come out now in August-September, even though COVID is still very much on, but we thought okay we'll take a chance and that's; we can discuss that, it's very interesting to release a book in the middle of a pandemic, but I never knew that Sushant's case after two months also will be like so much in the news you know. And, but it's not connected although like I have said, it's interesting to talk about the social phenomenon of this case capturing the nation's imagination.
NDTV: In fact, that's what I wanted to ask you Chetan, also because, why do you think, why has it caught the nation's attention? When I made the point, also there are so many other things that's happening. I mean, we have got the highest number of COVID cases in the world, there are jobs, there is unemployment. It almost seems to be a diversion from what the real issues are, people need a diversion. But also I'd like to talk, when I say that you and Sushant actually knew each other. So why don't we start with, why do you think it's got the nation's attention?
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, there are several reasons for it and you know, a writer's job is to capture the nation's pulse and if you remember, you've been interviewing me for many years now and I used to write love stories like you know, Two States and I have moved to the murder mystery genre. And that's partly because we are living in times where people's attention spans are falling and people get very fascinated by a good murder mystery. I mean, it's just very good content, its bizarre that this is happening in real life with Sushant. So firstly any, it's like a news for the person, so Sushant's case is not just news, it's news plus a puzzle that you almost seem like you will solve it, it's like that if only I knew three or four more facts, I will solve this. Actually, it's a technique we writers use in our books, murder mysteries, we try to make the reader feel that you almost have it and you have different theories and in the end you make a suspense and you do a twist like that, and Sushant's case has become a national murder mystery and I think one is just the stickiness of the puzzle nature of it. Second is Sushant's profile, he is coming from Patna, he has personality, very much reflecting the average Indian.
NDTV: But the difference I want to say Chetan, and again I have watched the media coverage and I have to say that I do think and I am not pointing at any particular thing, but I think it's actually been appalling. Because it's different when it's fiction. I mean these are real people with real lives and when it started we thought this will be a conversation about mental health and it has become about so many other things, almost the worst stereotypes you know, the vishkanya, the question that did he get along with his family, who did what? It's the worst stereotypes that we are catering to.
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, and we should talk about the mental health and how mental health is important, and I also want to talk about how misunderstood it is and how people are misunderstanding it on both sides, either overemphasising it or under emphasising it. But the first thing is that this is real. You know what is scary here is, in a book, in one arranged murder, when you pick it up, there is an expectation that it will be phenomenal climax, there will be an amazing twist at the end and there is, there is. That's the classic structure of the fiction murder mystery and unfortunately because it's a real situation, there may not be a thundering climax. There may not be one big revelation, one box that he opens and the puzzle is solved and that is going to disappoint people so much that they won't believe it. That it wasn't as complicated as people thought it out to be, there wasn't some major conspiracy involving CMs, CMs' children and all those things, it may not be all that. There may, and then people will get disappointed and I think that people are too wound up in it, too caught up in it, many careers have been made on it, many Youtubers have built careers now because they have never had the kind of views they've had after making Sushant videos, so there is an entire industry, a mini-industry benefiting from this case and it's being going on, it will. You've been a very experienced journalist, you know that India will move on from this, but I think it's become too much.
Having said that, creating awareness on the case does improve the chance of getting justice. NDTV has been instrumental in the Jessica Lal case and in that case, it was also a real case and it was also a case where you know, it wouldn't have been got the justice it did if the campaign wasn't there. But the media can create awareness of the case, the media cannot investigate, the media cannot try the case and ultimately our court system, thankfully, is based on evidence and theories, no matter how wonderful, even if plausible, they will not get you anywhere in the end. I think India should realise that now, today if you don't have evidence you won't have a leg to stand on in the court. So, all these theories, wonderful theories, yeh hua hoga, maybe 5 baje light band hui, 6 baje yeh hua, driver ne yeh kaha, great stories, I do that, but ...
NDTV: In fact, I think Chetan, I don't even think that you or some of Bollywood's best script writers could have come up with a script like this, because it actually is, as you pointed out, there's a whole political angle. Whether Aditya Thackeray, the Chief Minister is involved, whether there's a political thing behind the Maharashtra Government. We have got Bihar elections coming up in a few months and it has all come together and today you have 3 central agencies investigating.
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, I just saw on Twitter today I don't know when this airs, but I see Prashant Bhushan tweeting that he has just come out of the contempt. I don't even think he is fully out of that contempt of court case, but he is talking about Rhea and all that and saying that; so, Prashant is a very polarising figure, political, right? I think, it's becoming the classic left versus right thing, you know and that BJP versus non-BJP and it's just gone into those camps and from where it started from, so I think it's almost like people are moving in all directions, they are no longer even interested in solving the case.
NDTV: Absolutely, I think it has become a polarising, it's become about which camp you belong to and that's really the tragic part, not just of this case, but also when we talk about debate or dialogue in India today. But I just want to bring you back Chetan to the fact that it's so interesting that he actually debuted in a movie based on your book. Tell us about the Sushant you knew and could he ever have imagined that this is what it would have come down to?
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, I mean you know, I met him when we were making Kai Po Che. Kai Po Che is based on my book, 3 Mistakes of My Life, for which I think I remember you only interviewed me for that. So, there must be some video somewhere of that and nobody was ready to do that film because again it was a politically charged film, which is basically on Godhra Riots and we were finding it very difficult to cast that film. And that film, basically when Sushant was called, he was a TV actor at that time, and it was like a career risk for him too. We were taking a risk by casting a newcomer and he was taking a big risk by doing a film which had no romantic lead for him, which is rare in a hero being launched. It had Godhra Riots in the climax, not exactly a mainstream kind of film and I remember media meeting him and asking him, ki Sushant yeh vaali picture kyun ki tumne, why did you choose this movie to debut and not a romantic or a college romance something? And he said aapki kahaani hai, I am from an engineering college and in engineering colleges Chetan Bhagat's books are very popular, and I thought if I am getting the chance to do a Chetan Bhagat book, why not. So, I felt so responsible, I felt so, of course it was very adorable that he said that, but I also felt very responsible. Till the movie came out, I was really like, you know, so nervous that what will happen, you know, I would have still survived if the film did not go as planned, but for him it was debut, very difficult. So, that's how I met him, he was very driven, very dedicated, very hard working, very sweet, little different in personality related to me, I am very outspoken, I am very besharam, Punjabi types he was a little introverted, that's, those personality things have had a role you know, I feel.
NDTV: Do you think that it's just a death by suicide or do you think it should be investigated as murder as well?
Chetan Bhagat: I think, okay here is what I think. I think firstly people are saying that it is also possible that someone is on depression medication and gets murdered, both are also possible, right? It is also possible that it was a suicide and it is also possible that it was a last-minute foul play at the end also, it is possible because many people were in the house. I mean I am not a detective but I write these stories now so, therefore, I study hundreds of cases and the simplest thing is to figure out what happened and reconstruct those days, you know, especially since Rhea left and then towards the end of, till he passed away. So, I think those reconstructions have to be done. Here's what I, if you ask me, I'll summarise it quickly, what might have happened. He had a very tender, fragile kind of mind, I think he always kept it within himself but things affected him. Things like bad Bollywood articles targeting his commercial viability, articles which were mainly accusations on him, especially the kind of accusations about him being inappropriate to women and things like that. That is incredibly, incredibly damaging for a man, I know it. And for someone who didn't fight back immediately, people tell you fight back or some people say just keep quiet, na, it will pass. He decided to be quiet and I think when you are quiet and your mind is already tender, you get into trouble, then people say you know what you are not feeling too well. It's a mental health issue, let us, please talk to some professional and this where the new thing has come where you must note mental health issues.
I agree with that, but some people also say that mental health is like a disease, like diabetes, some people go to that extent, but no it's not like diabetes. A, the symptoms are not very clear like in the case of diabetes; B, the medication is very, very, serious, I mean you; diabetes drugs are also prescription, but psychiatric drugs are like next level prescription, your ordinary chemist doesn't even have them. You give him the prescription, he'll order it for you or there will be special psychiatric chemist, very dangerous drugs, right? In, when you start taking those drugs, all kinds of things happen and you are feeling low. The core issue is those fake allegations, you are not feeling well, oh take this, it's not working? Do goli aur lelo, chaar goli lelo, yeh lelo woh lelo, all kinds of things. Then some recreational drugs, he, I am not claiming that any of this happened, but based on interview that have just come, she is talking about it, so I am not saying whether she is right or wrong, but mix recreational drugs, mix prescription drugs; at one point in one of the interviews I heard that he met four doctors and there were 25 prescriptions in a week. I mean that was not cross-examined more, maybe it was exaggeration or hyperbole but even if five or six prescriptions in a week, not 25, that's a lot of prescriptions. It could also be a case, if one doctor gives you a prescription, you go to five, you can have five times the amount of medication. Many psychiatrists will tell you these medicines, when taken, overdose can have recreational effects, same effects, you can get a high from these same medicines. All that Sonia needs to be investigated, whether he was correctly diagnosed, whether he was over-medicating, whether it was intentional, was it foolishness, whether it was, you know, some mal fide intention. Those are definitely, you know, points to understand, what was really and that can be verified.
NDTV: I want to pick up two points you made about that. I mean I am just quoting what Rhea told me yesterday. She said that what disturbed Sushant after he was diagnosed for depression was the "MeToo" allegations against him and the fact, he said that it kept playing on his mind and he kept feeling that there is a them behind it. That there is someone behind the larger conspiracies, not just behind the charge, because the charge came up, the person involved didn't deny up to one and a half years later. By which time the damage was done. One and a half months later by which the time the damage was done for Sushant and she was really stressing about this. Now you went through a similar thing, and again I am not getting into this, I am not a judge, a validator, but that's my point.
Chetan Bhagat: Mine was also fake and Sonia I see you as, I can tell you, luckily we had the evidence that it's completely fake and I got out of it and I am the kind of person who fought back and I gave the damn evidence, and I said that this is nonsense and I made sure that, you know, that I presented my thing, and I moved on and I did my work. Sushant also kind of moved on, it's not like Sushant was not getting work, but in his head, he took it very badly. For me, I knew that okay, it's gone now, I am getting my work back, people may not turn around and say okay bada burra hua aapke saath, but people know that it wasn't real. You wouldn't have called me for an interview if you feel that. So that thing did play on him, probably he took a cocktail of things after that and the kind of company he was keeping, not exactly the smartest cookies in the box, when I see people being interviewed on TV and how they talk, and I don't know whether, where that took him. And finally there is that final breakdown and that breakdown, was it an intentional suicide, was it a you know some foul play was it some fight, we don't know and I don't know and that is why the whole country has fought and got CBI there, they will find that out. That too me seems, again I am saying, this a plausible set of events, but evidence is what is needed, I don't have it.
NDTV: Absolutely, but you talk Chetan, we are talking and you said that I am a happy go lucky Punjabi, I am strong, I managed to move on. But I read that you also at one time, even you thought that this whole gang system or who is for you, who is against you, you were denied the credit. That even you thought at one time that you could contemplate suicide because you weren't getting the due credit. Do you stand by that today?
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, yes, I maybe a happy go lucky Punjabi most of the time but I am a human being you know and when you are really unfairly treated and when you are like your whole career goes for a toss in a second and people backstab you, I mean those kind of things can be very damaging. I think you are talking about the 3 Idiots time and again the credits thing, which is basically, in my case it was a very clear violation of something of story credit for 3 Idiots and it's an old issue. I don't want to keep talking about it, but I was relatively new then, I was not Chetan Bhagat, I am not speaking at NDTV Dialogues with you, I am not at that level. Today I can be at that level and say, that's what they did to me and I know they will not counter back because they know. But at that time, literally, these were the words that Vidhu Vinod Chopra Sir told me, "writer haina tu? Writer chup hi baithe rehte hain India mein, writer ko koi nahi poochta." These were his words, he said "meri biwi bhi writer hai, kuch nahi koi nahi poochta usko", which means nobody cares for writers including, like nobody cares. ''I am a movie mogul.'' I am not exaggerating these words. This is how he described himself. So, you decide what you are doing, he never thought, this writer is going to become like the most selling writer in the country for the next 15 years and one day people will listen to him more than the movie mogul and what goes around comes around. So, today I can and I don't have those grudges, but at that point he was the movie mogul, I was the new writer, I was being vilified on TV, I was being told that you know, your career is finished because you have taken on the big ones and yes, I felt like it's not worth it and you know these are not thinking rationally. Anybody who committed suicide is not thinking rationally, anybody who has those thoughts is not thinking rationally. I have studied this, if you remember 3 Idiots, there was a suicide sequence in that story, who has written that story? I have only written it so you know those things were dark components of my life and when this happened, I still fought back and if I had not fought back that time, whatever I could do as a writer, I did it, I got it out of my system. Sushant never fought back, he has not got one interview where he says that I am being targeted; he is not got one interview where he says that these allegations really bothered me and they are not true. I mean, he was a single guy Sonia, he is a single good-looking guy, he and there is no evidence and he will have a lack of female attention? I don't know that he has to do things without consent, I mean, you are making these allegations, you better back them up.
NDTV: But the sad fact is that he is not here anymore, he's dead so actually anyone can say anything about him, his family has said that, Rhea is saying that he took drugs, anyone is saying anything about him, he is not here to defend himself. But the one other scary thing, even when I interviewed Rhea yesterday, is that my family and I should commit suicide. The fact of suicide being used now, some people say that it is being used for sympathy, some people say it's used to get attention, no one is looking at it as the actual problem it is in India today, especially among young people. You are talking about Sushant, Rhea herself, as she said is from a middle-class family, right now the target of this complete national attention, it's very hard to handle, why aren't we looking at these issues? We have seen a number of TV stars recently who have also died by suicide. We are not looking at the darker side of the world of so-called glamour.
Chetan Bhagat: Yes, see Rhea should be investigated and she is being investigated and she is being investigated by multiple agencies and she is going to get investigated because of unnatural death and she was the significant other of that person. It's not just this case, it's there in every case, that's the first person you investigate, that's the first thing that happens. But our system says innocent until proven guilty, it does say that. Right? I didn't make this term and especially if you don't have any clear or overwhelming or damning evidence, it's not like people were caught red-handed or anything na? So, if that is there then you have to let the course play out, but if obviously you become such targeting, I can understand that she is stressed. I am not saying that I am on her side or anything, but I can understand that what is happening on TV is not how a justice system of a country should work, but it's one of those things. Now she is coming out and clarifying and giving out her point of view, she's coming now, she has come after 2 months, I don't know what it is, she must have had a thinking behind it, I don't know. I heard there is some dream or something, again I don't really understand that thing so much, but she is coming out, she is. I think if she gives her point of view, she will not have those thoughts as much. I always say this, whenever I was in situations which were tricky for me, I have at least tried to give my point of view for my own sake. Sushant didn't and he maybe, maybe they found reports of huge intakes of certain substances and whether it's a prescribed, but those can have all kinds of weird effects. So, that is I think something to think about, she gave you an interview right, she is giving a couple of other people also.
NDTV: In fact Chetan when I am talking about the ugly side of glamour, one aspect that has come up because the NCB is now investigating and we know that will open up a whole other issue, she said that a Pandora's box has been opened up about this, you've got Kangana Ranaut tweeting that it's not about just Sushant, this is accepted at Bollywood, at all A-listers parties you're going to have drugs. This is an accepted part of Bollywood, you are in Bollywood, you're on some level of drugs. I don't know the truth on all of this, but you've seen this industry, in fact you've been an outsider also in this industry. Are drugs widely prevalent, well as Kangana, someone who is an actor herself, alleges?
Chetan Bhagat: I, maybe I have not gone to such A-list parties, but I have not seen it as much Sonia. People do consume them but it's not as rampant as it is being made out to be. I don't think it is. I mean people may have a drink or two which is completely legal and people smoke a lot, which is normal cigarettes which is also very bad I think, but you know some of these had drugs, I have not seen them. Some people do smoke up marijuana which is illegal in India, but legal in certain parts of the world. Maybe some of that, you also have to figure out what are you talking about, because on one hand there is a marijuana, on one hand there is cocaine and heroin and all kinds of things, so I don't know. But I don't think that it is extremely prevalent or things like that and like I said people often ignore the prescription drug use in India. There are certain drugs which are hard to obtain but it's India. So, ultimately all it takes is friendly chemist. Certain drugs, I don't want to name them but you start taking them in 10x, 20x the prescribed amount and they will have psychedelic or euphoric effects, they can have recreational purposes which are harmful. And all of this is happening everywhere, normal prescription drugs are also being abused. It's going to mess up with your brain, see your brain has a reward system, so you like you work hard or get a good result in an exam and go to the gym, but your brain feels good and it's a little bit good.
NDTV: I also want to look, as you know so much about, currently as we are talking, students around the country are writing and saying that we don't want to give exams, the world's toughest exams actually, the engineering entrance exams for IITs and the medical exams which now begin next week. There's this huge battle and sadly it has now become about which camp you're in, when it should be about the students. As somebody who has been to IIT, what would you say, should we have exams now as Corona cases are currently over 75k and of course we are back to normal, I am back to work, around India people are back to work. What do you think?
Chetan Bhagat: You know, I wasn't very clear sided on this one, this was brewing because I am from IIT, lot of students were writing to me, Sir bolo kuch, say something about this and I wasn't really sure, because on one side I only have said that we should not do crazy lockdowns for a long time as it will destroy our economy; because I can't say that don't do lockdowns but don't do lockdowns, that became a little inconsistent. But, in this particular case, these are tough exams, they cause a lot of anxiety, adding COVID anxiety to it is a problem. Many places public transport is not in order, many places people don't have the kind of privilege that you sit in a car, go, it's not there. These exams, are not those kinds of exams. Literally every corner of the country, people take this exam. In many places there are a lot of restrictions and these exams, five minutes you are distracted, you will get three sums wrong and you will slip out of the ranks. So, somebody is going to point the finger that they were not conducted in an equal and fair environment, that's an issue. Second issue, there are vaccines which are in Phase 3 trials, at least 5 vaccines are in Phase 3 trials which means one of them will come through, not only there is a 50-50 chance in Phase 3, we will have a vaccine by the end of the year. By February next year we may have it in our arm also. That's an 80% chance, if that is the case, we could shift it for a few months and avoid all this anxiety. At the end of the day we are not opening theatres, Parliament, so it's not like people making the case are completely wrong. Schools are not open, you know, tremendous mixing happening.
NDTV: Would it mean them losing a year if they don't give their exams now?
Chetan Bhagat: Maybe, yes, students can't have it both ways. I think a gap year, is probably better, what else to do now? It's the entire year 2020 is gone. I mean it's; you can't have it both ways right, they can't have a lottery and give tickets, they can't say that I will look at your last year's board exams, that also is going to create a new problem. I think you should postpone and see what happens with the vaccine and then do it anyway.
NDTV: I think the main part isn't being talked about, there are alternatives, let's be creative, think out of the box, but finally Chetan, as we talked about, India is of course going through the rising cases, we are currently the highest number of cases in the world at the moment. You are luckily in Singapore where it has been handled very differently. India's population, the many challenges that we face here are a reality and what we are going through is Corona reality. How do you think we can face the two issues here? When you talk to young people, jobs are as it is an issue in India, but now its tripling. There are everyday reports of layoffs, whether it's in airlines or different industries. Are jobs going to be the whole issue, almost tackling that of Corona in a sense? What do you think?
Chetan Bhagat: I think it will be and I think that is where I say, with all the respect to Sushant, I loved him, I owe my career to him, Kai Po Che was not getting made, I was not getting a movie, it started after 3 Idiots, because of whatever happened Sushant saved me. So please, I understand and don't ever, nobody can really say that I didn't care for him. But we have to care for India also, we cannot spend months and months making that the prime issue. I mean, we wanted a different agency, we have got it. Now each and every time if you only want different clues of this puzzle and if you think India should do that for a year, I don't think that's not going to achieve anything. Every country has problems with their economy, every country is trying, any responsible country is trying to get out of it and we need to shift our focus back. It's very entertaining, this case, and it has everything you need in it, a murder, a suicide maybe, movie stars and all conspiracy theories and everything, but no matter how interesting it is, it's not a story, it's not a real life, and you have to get evidence and either you let CBI do it or say that we don't even need CBI, we'll do it ourselves on TV tonight. And I think, move on to the economy, to Corona, how are we going to distribute the vaccine, how are we going to check the phase 3 trials, are we going to postpone the exams till the vaccine comes, but maybe people don't find it so interesting. People are like, it's okay Corona aaye toh aaye but shaam ko TV pe maza aana chaahiye.
NDTV: In fact, maybe Chetan you need to go back now and maybe write a book on jobs and an economy, maybe then we will get people to focus on it more, but at least here on NDTV, I assure you, that's our main focus. Thanks so much, Chetan Bhagat for joining me, it's always wonderful to talk to you. I don't know how many books now but we are setting a record as well. Thanks for joining us.
Chetan Bhagat: Thank you, thank you.