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Chetan’s book to box office

Bestselling author Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life — the story of three friends and their dreams in riot-hit Gujarat — finds its cinematic expression in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che! A t2 chat with Bhagat on the February 22 release…

Is it a little different talking about a film release rather than a book launch?

Yes, it is actually (laughs). You are the first person to ask me this question! When it’s a book, I have to tell everything, but here I just have to talk in general. It’s quite a relief… not so much pressure (laughs). But it’s fun to talk about the film and relive all those memories. It’s nice that people are reacting so positively to the promos. These days you can’t hide anything… people’s comments can be seen on YouTube.

We were a little apprehensive that we don’t have big stars, but that hasn’t been an issue at all with the viewer. I think we are a lot more confident now than when we first released the promos because we were worried that it was a film with new guys and had taken quite some time to make it. But there is something about the film that will appeal to everyone.

But do you think it would have worked if you had gone in for established stars?

Now when I think about it I realise that it wouldn’t have worked. In fact, it would have distracted the viewer… ‘oh there is that guy from that movie’, you know. It’s a story that needs freshness... being a story about three friends... it’s also based on a real incident in Gujarat. In the book, the dates are real… the incidents are real… but the characters are fictional and that’s what needed to come across in the film too. With the film set to release, I feel that it’s the freshness of the characters that’s emerging as its major strength.

Why did you approach Abhishek Kapoor to make The 3 Mistakes of My Life into a film?

Actually, I had initially spoken to Farhan Akhtar because he has made a story about friends in Dil Chahta Hai. He asked me to meet Abhishek Kapoor, who had made Rock On!! with him. Abhishek read the book and fell in love with the characters. He told me that he wanted to make it into a film.

What was the process like?

To be honest, it was fairly easy. But it took a very long time because it’s a tough book to film. The scope of the story is huge and there are a number of threads… we had to do justice to every aspect of the book and that was quite a challenge.

It must have been tough condensing it into a two-hour screenplay?

First we had to figure our focus. This was always going to be a story of three friends who have dreams of their own and the conflicts that arise between them when they set out to pursue those dreams. We kept that but took the politics out. We have the cricket bit, but that’s not the focus. Almost everything that is there in the book is in the film, but the focus has changed. We had to let go of a few things, but that’s made the film better.

Besides writing the screenplay, how involved were you in the film?

Abhishek would discuss things with me all the time. But casting is something that I always leave to the director. If I have a serious objection to something, I say it, but normally I don’t interfere. But as the release draws near, I can tell you that I am as nervous as the rest of the cast and crew. My name is attached to the project and I am answerable to the one crore readers of The 3 Mistakes of My Life.

Is it tough to let go considering the book is your baby or are you happy seeing someone else interpret it in his own way? I can… now. It wasn’t so easy earlier, but over time I have learnt to let go. I understand that I have to be professional and can’t get too attached. Honestly, I don’t want Kai Po Che! to be just Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life. I also want the audience to see it the way Abhishek has interpreted it.

Have you watched the film yet?

I have watched significant portions but I haven’t seen the whole film. But whatever I have seen, I can tell you that the film is as good as the book, if not better.

Considering you had a run-in with the makers of 3 Idiots over giving you credit for the story, were you apprehensive about the same thing happening here?

Actually, this deal had happened long before 3 Idiots released. Abhishek had spoken to me a year before 3 Idiots. In fact, Abhishek supported me a lot in the 3 Idiots problem. I told him that this is happening and that I was being told that I wouldn’t be allowed to work in Bollywood and he was like, ‘No, I am making the film with you anyway.’ And this time, UTV has gone really far to ensure that I am credited properly. Even the promos have my name.