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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Revolution 2020

Chetan Bhagat

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To purchase Revolution 2020

Title: Revolution 2020
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 296 pages
Availability: Revolution 2020 - US
Revolution 2020 - UK
Revolution 2020 - Canada
Revolution 2020 - India
  • Love. Corruption. Ambition

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Our Assessment:

B- : zips along, with a lot going on, but rides roughshod over too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
India Today . 22/10/2011 Pritish Nandy
Outlook India . 21/11/2011 Shashi Tharoor

  From the Reviews:
  • "You will learn nothing from this book. For it is not meant to teach you anything. Neither English nor literature. And certainly not anything about life as it ought to be lived. (...) R2020 is a delightful read. I read it in one shot. Bhagat has made it impossible not to like his books." - Pritish Nandy, India Today

  • "Revolution 2020 bears all the Bhagat hallmarks (.....) Chetan Bhagat’s style is, as always, simple, unpretentious and unadorned: critics may call the prose pedestrian, but it serves its purpose admirably." - Shashi Tharoor, Outlook India

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Revolution 2020 is bookended with a Prologue and an Epilogue in which Chetan Bhagat speaks with Gopal Mishra, "the young director of GangaTech College" -- a typical set-up for a Bhagat novel, framing the main story itself, Gopal's story. Sub-titled Love. Corruption. Ambition, it revolves around a trio of friends from Varanasi (formerly Benares): Gopal, Aarti, and Raghav, and the story gets going as they finish high school and Gopal and Raghav's futures are determined by how they did in the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). [The novel was published in 2011; in the meantime, the AIEEE has been completely replaced by the JEE.] Getting high marks on the exam is the only path to the elite universities of India -- especially the Indian Institutes of Technology -- the first and most important step to a promising career path.
       Aarti is the privileged daughter of a senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, and her ambitions are limited to becoming a stewardess, but the two boys, from humbler families, know their futures depend on exam success. Raghav does very well, while Gopal comes up just short: on the one hand, given that a million students took the test, his rank of 52,043 doesn't sound too bad -- but it isn't good enough to get him into a premier college. And along with that disappointment comes another that hits him just as hard, as Aarti rebuffs his advances, explaining that: "I don't see you that way." She just wants to be friends -- close friends, as they have been throughout childhood.
       Gopal's mother died when he was young. His now sickly father was a teacher, and they live relatively humbly. For ages they've also been involved in a land dispute, Baba's older brother trying to screw them out of land that is rightfully theirs, and offering far too little in compensation for it. Education seems a way to a better future, so all hopes are riding on Gopal -- and these test results are a setback.
       A slot in a good engineering programme seems to be Gopal's only way out, and so rather than going to a second-rate college he prepares to take the exam again, spending the year in Kota, Rajasthan -- the center of India's coaching institutes, cram schools where students do nothing but prepare for the exams. Some twenty hours away from Varanasi by train, Gopal finds himself fairly isolated there -- and feels even more so when he learns that Aarti has begun dating Raghav.
       Raghav has not even put his golden ticket to best use, choosing first of all to go to a local institution -- and then neglecting his engineering studies in favor of journalism and activism. He is an idealist who wants to change the world -- or at least India -- though his devotion to his causes comes to cause some friction with Aarti, since it means he can't spend as much time with her.
       Much of Revolution 2020 is about the 'Great Indian Education Race', and Bhagat covers a lot of this ground fairly well: the importance of the test results, the cram-schools, and then also the competition among them as well as various colleges for students (with bargaining for discounts and ruthless competition). Education is big business in India, and a fast-growing one -- and this is something which Gopal is able to take advantage of when the original plan -- get a higher score and get into a prestigious engineering school -- falls short again.
       Gopal continues to pine for Aarti -- and to measure himself against Raghav. With Raghav focused on journalism, his academic and then career path is one that doesn't pay immediate dividends -- financially, or in terms of status. But Gopal lucks into an opportunity that puts him on the fast track -- an opportunity that is on the one hand cheap and easy (other than the disputed family land, his investment is limited to his time and effort), on the other hand comes at a huge cost, as far as personal integrity goes.
       The Indian way Bhagat describes -- of doing business, and most everything else -- is one of connections and bribes. Corruption is endemic. So also with the education system, especially the setting up of new colleges. And so, as the corrupt local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Shukla-ji, who partners with Gopal explains to him:

If we had a straightforward and clean system, these professors would open their own colleges. Blue-chip companies and software firms could open colleges. The system is twisted, they don't want to touch it. That is where we come in.
       So, barely in his twenties, Gopal finds himself the founding front-man for a college. It has to be built from the ground up -- and even the ground-issues take some bribes to fix (the land is zoned for agricultural use) -- but part of the fun is in seeing just how many palms have to be greased in order to get things running. Everyone expects commissions too -- for bringing in professors, or students, for example.
       Gopal sinks deep into this corrupt muck, while Raghav remains an idealist. Of course, their two paths come to cross professionally, when Raghav writes an article about Gopal's new college -- and he can't help but mention some of the dubious monies behind it. While Gopal and his backers essentially declare war (though Raghav is barely a flea in their machinations), Raghav is moved solely by his idealism; he's not really up for a fight, because it's all just part of one big battle for him.
       Of course, one reason Gopal wants to bring Raghav down is because of his enduring passion for Aarti. Their friendship flickers on and off, bu Aarti continues to want to maintain a connection to Gopal -- and eventually, as Raghav becomes engrossed in his own work, she is tempted by a closer relationship with Gopal.
       Even Gopal can see that Raghav is a good man, doing good -- and that while he has worked very hard for the college, that can never change the fact that he has had to make terrible compromises all along the way. When Aarti is within reach he is put to a final test -- does he take advantage of the situation (and kick Raghav while he's down, on top of it), or does he (finally) do the honorable thing ?
       Revolution 2020 does offer many interesting insights into fast-changing contemporary India, especially the educational and business systems. The portrayals of Kota-life or the building of a college from the ground up, in particular, are quite fascinating. Bhagat is on less sure ground with the relationship-aspects of the novel, his leads generally behaving more like petulant teens (especially in breaking off communication when often what they really should be doing is talking things out) than young adults. Gopal is also a somewhat problematic narrator in that he is so shallow -- and apparently completely oblivious to any and all ethical questions, as if he were able to just block them out. Ironically, Gopal is the perfect advertisement for a liberal arts education: he's obviously never had anything like that -- never engaged in even the most cursory way with literature or philosophy -- and, boy, could he have used a big dose of it.
       The love story (or stories) are also somewhat frustrating, Gopal's behavior towards Aarti rarely allowing him to appear to be worthy of her (while we see too little of Raghav to know if he is -- and given her complaints of how little attention he pays to her, there are obviously issues here too). Particularly frustrating, too, is the characters' avoidance of one another at various times: rather than communicate they ignore each other -- even when there are obviously things to discuss. Gopal's final act, determining the final outcome, and their futures, is also entirely staged -- not even a real confrontation, but just a tableau, a faked scene meant to mislead (which it does, just as intended); ridiculously, the characters can't just talk things out, and instead Gopal does something extremely hurtful. (Arguably he is doing a 'good thing' but, again, a proper liberal arts education -- or common sense and decency -- might have allowed him to do so in a less theatrical and brutal way.)
       If the final outcome is vaguely satisfying, with the three central characters on the 'right' path, Revolution 2020 still leaves a bit of a bad taste, specifically because Gopal seems to have so little moral understanding, of anything he has done. Bhagat's characters again show a shallowness that makes even the positive outcome feel almost like happenstance. Both the novel as a whole, and Gopal as a characer, feel teen-age, not adult: the worldview here is a simplistic young-teen one, as is the way relationships are handled and hurt dealt with, as are the grand gestures. The way the world works is presented in a reductionist almost black-and-white way, the characters -- and Bhagat -- refusing to deal with life's complexities in a meaningful (much less thoughtful) way -- life the way a young teen might see it.
       Revolution 2020 does offer enough to make for an engaging read -- though it is the technical aspects, about education, politics, and business (including, incidentally, Aarti's career struggles), that are far more successful than the relationship stories (much less the family ones: Baba, and the land-disputing relatives, serve their brief purposes, but are unceremoniously swept away when Bhagat doesn't have any roles left for them to fill). It makes for a decent (if in some ways annoying) YA novel -- but one wishes Bhagat had allowed his characters to show more growth and eventually some actual maturity.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 October 2016

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Revolution 2020: Reviews: Chetan Bhagat: Other books of interest under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Immensely popular Indian author Chetan Bhagat was born in 1974.

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