Book: Half Girlfriend
Author: Chetan Bhagat, best selling Indian author
I had to read it. Chetan Bhagat, as the people who read books only while travelling in trains believe, is one of the best Indian writers. And it had been too long. 2 States was the last book I read of a Best-selling Indian Author.
So, I sat with a highlighter and opened the first page of the brand new Chetan Bhagat book, Half Girlfriend which had a few seconds teaser when the book was announced. A really really stupid teaser. Link for the lazy.
Premise and Plot
The book starts with Bhagat being stalked by a guy in his hotel in Patna. Bhagat tries to shrug him off but he’s very persistent and he carries a torn notebook with him. He wants Bhagat to read it, because he thinks a busy writer like Bhagat has nothing else on his schedule. After a while, when he’s not able to convince Bhagat to read the notes, he plays the death card and tells him these are his girlfriend’s notes who died some time ago. This troubles Bhagat greatly as he states, ‘you can’t pick up a chocolate when someone has just mentioned a death’. I know if it’s not someone close, death is merely a statistic. But surely, Bhagat can say it in a way so as to not appear as an unsympathetic idiot.
This death trap works for a few minutes but then Bhagat starts thinking about ordering some food. Amidst some really poorly written dialogue, we come across the basis of the story, the Bihari English and the English. The St. Stephen’s and Stevens! This guy, the main protagonist, Madhav then tells Bhagat that he and his deceased friend used to read his novels to learn English. Think about it for a while. Let the beauty of this new information sink in. Then our stalker friend leaves his notes forcefully on the desk of India’s beloved author and runs away. You leave your dead friend’s only notes with a guy you’ve never met. Good job. Bhagat, out of curiosity and the fact that this novel wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t read it, reads the notes.
Thus our story begins, now narrated by Madhav, the stalker, himself. We find him in St. Stephen’s where he is bitten by inferiority complex and as chilches go, some cool dude with long hair, makes fun of his accent right there. Cliches run deep in Half Girlfriend. The guy with a money is a drunkard and he assaults his wife, the mother-in-law who’s well to do in foreign wouldn’t treat an Indian girl properly, the rich girl doesn’t want money but independence and wants to become an artist and not a famous one at that, the MLA in the gaon is looking for favours from everyone otherwise he wouldn’t work, our guy Madhav is poor in money so he is humble and thoughtful and cares for his country.
Anyway, so Madhav has to give a sports test to be selected under sports quota, and there on the basketball field he finds Riya, our heroin. This is how Madhav (Bhagat) describes Riya, ‘her long neck, long arms and long legs held everyone’s attention.’ I get it, Madhav is really obsessed with long things to make up for something maybe, but you can put it in a better way, can’t you? While describing the girl, we see that the girl is wearing branded clothes, diamond ring and what not. Bhagat uses these shortcuts throughout. She has good clothes and a BMW, so she's rich. He thinks about humanity and country and things like that, so he's poor. There’s no visual, there’s nothing. Just when you think you were done with long things, Madhav also notices her long fingers. Then by some weird cosmological force at play, they both get to talk about basketball.
With his ramblings, boring boring ramblings, we get to know Madhav a little better. And suffice it to say, he’s just an idiot. There’s nothing else to him really. He says stupid things throughout the course of this story, right from the beginning where he tries to analyse what ‘bye, catch you’ means. Then he goes on and makes social commentary on everything. All his theories essentially end in, ‘they are rich people so they are weird!’
And I also don’t get Bhagat’s hatred for Bihar, I mean, since the very start, Bihar is established as this backward place where nothing innovative ever happened. The protagonist seems to hate Bihar but just so he seems like a smart and rationale guy Bhagat gives him enough sentences praising Bihar and the countryside and how life is better and how people are good there.
They both get admission in the college and then they meet on the first day itself and thus begins their friendship. Trust me, in real life that never happens. I met this really cool girl on the day of my college interview and we talked, but we never bumped into each other in college. Never in three years.
We move some months ahead, and Madhav is clearly friendzoned but he’s happy with it. Also, Madhav has gotten really comfortable with attributing every complexity in Riya’s character to her being rich, ‘maybe rich people were like that’ he says.
We find out from reading Madhav’s own account that Riya is an introvert and doesn’t open up easily. But Madhav himself doesn’t realize this as he keeps forcing Riya to spill her secrets out. Whatever happened to let people be? He also provides a brilliant analogy to show his frustration, ‘getting you to talk is like a dentist pulling teeth.’ Yep. And you know, when Riya finally lets go off the wall and starts talking, Madhav does this, ‘She continued to talk and I continued to listen, even though my entire attention was on how lovely her hand felt in mine.' Seriously? A whole chapter about how she doesn’t talk and when she does, you do this?
In the next chapter, we finally see another shade in Madhav’s character, he’s a hormone crazy sex-starved male who by the way doesn’t represent the whole male population as Madhav (Bhagat) puts at least thrice throughout the book. Madhav, our friend, is obsessed with kissing, and he thinks of it as a seal, the only way someone can confirm you mean something is by letting you kiss them on the lips. Yes. Let’s go a few centuries backward now?
Moving on, nothing happens for a few chapters and then nothing continues to happen. A new character is introduced and you instantly know he’s the devil. He’s liked by the girl’s dad, he’s rich, self made and all those things. But his first dialogue where he explains why he was late is this, ‘The parlour took so bloody long to finish my facial. ' Some of my friends are really loaded with both money and looks, but they have never ever said anything remotely close to this. EVER. Moving on, Rohan is everything Madhav is not. Smart, charming, likeable, whatever. When Rohan holds a girl’s hand and she giggles, this is the conclusion our Madhav arrives at, ‘What is so funny about a rich guy holding your hand?’
Somewhere in there we are also introduced to Madhav’s college friends, they are also cliched to the core, the fat guy gives romantic advises, the nerd talks to the point, et cetera. They all come to a conclusion that if a girl likes you, she must let you sleep with her. YEP. Let’s go back some more centuries now. Madhav takes the advice of his friends and tries to bed Riya, and says the most cringe-worthy thing ever written on paper, ‘deti hai toh de, warna kat le!’ Yes, he says that to the girl he loves and worships and what-not. And whatever sympathy you had for the poor Madhav till this point goes into the drain. They break up and we move forward six months. Madhav justifies his actions to himself by saying any male would do that, and I start questioning my male-ness. When Riya finally, tired of being stalked, talks to Madhav, all he thinks about kissing her. And again he justifies with the same reasoning. All males. Oh fuck you!
Things go bad, and they both move out of Delhi for different reasons to different places. Madhav is now in his hometown working in the school with his mother, and Riya is in London.
In the mother of all coincidences scene, Madhav comes across Riya in a small cafe in Patna and the way Bhagat describes it, you realise if there was a one minute difference, they wouldn’t have met. Crazy stupid coincidence. After this, I stopped taking the book seriously. You just can’t write whatever you think would catch your readers fancy. ‘Oh let’s throw in a giant turd of coincidence and tell people this is true love and it always finds its way, and if it’s meant to be, it will be.’ I have never run into the hot girl who lives in the floor below and you want me to believe two people both living thousand miles away would run into each other in a third city in a busy cafe? BULLSHIT.
A lot of things happen in the background but they are presented in such a half baked manner that you just can’t care. Bhagat even manages to make Bill Gates episode in the book boring. Now, that stuff takes serious skills.
Madhav’s obsession to kiss runs consistent throughout Half Girlfriend and after a point you wish this book was a hardcover so you could hit Madhav with it.
Nothing really happens in the first 150 pages and then I decided to stop highlighting and just skim through the book. Events happen here and there, presented in a way so you sleep faster.
Half Girlfriend’s saving grace is, Madhav is not the only stupid character. Riya through the course of the book, keeps doing stupid things but is overshadowed by ‘deti hai toh de, warna kat le!’ But after a certain point, the stupidity horse of Riya starts winning over the stupidity horse of Madhav.
And then the novel concludes with the most over-used climax premise. Guy looks for the girl for months and then because of another giant turd of coincidence, he finds her. He now has limited time on hand to reach her, if he doesn’t the girl would go away, and then as luck (cliche) would have it, all the transportation options cease to work and you have no other option but to run. But but but, as Gods Of Boring Novels would have it, you reach the place right on the last minute and happy ending. Yay? Yes, as boring as that.
Throughout Half Girlfriend, Bhagat mesmerizes you with careful written description of things. Here’s a gem, ‘the club sandwich, which had a tomato, cheese and lettuce filling.’ Yeah. Okay. Good. Thank you for telling me. Also, they are downright hilarious. See, ‘my voice firmer with food inside me’ or ‘I got into a yellow taxi.’
This novel doesn’t even have those cute awwww moments, you know? All the scenes are so overdone in books and cinemas of the past that you feel they are plagiarized, like girlfriend is reading but the sun is on her, so you block the sun, girlfriend removes a rice grain from your face so you put more grains on it. It’s all cringe-worthy. The middle section of the book seems like it’s lifted from Swadesh.
The dialogues, The dialogues are so unengaging. Every dialogue is followed by the meaning of it. I mean if someone is concerned, happy, sad, anything, you should be able to make it out with his dialogue. Bhagat is so unconfident in his dialogues that most of them are followed by what the dialogue meant, he throws it on your face, look he is concerned now, look he is hurt now.
Also, I think Bhagat self assumes that he is the voice of this generation and he raises all sorts of issues through this book. Hangover of What Young India Wants, I think. In one instance, Madhav (Bhagat) says why no one speaks in Hindi and you’d wonder if Madhav would change that, but he says it and then he starts learning English. These issues, go nowhere, nothing is further mentioned. I think if you raise 200 issues in 200 pages, you raise none and that’s what happens here.
And why this title? Why? When you read this title you think it’s about friends with benefits or something like that, but this title has nothing to do with the story being told. Just because Riya says this once, we get this title? This title is like the click-bait headlines we see online, a marketing gimmick, so you get curious. It’s just weird that a book of 250 pages doesn’t even talk about this concept of half-girlfriend in details. Not even a proper meaningful para.
In the end, this book is lazily written with a single objective that it is picked by some movie producer. It feels like a screenplay, nothing else. As a book, it is so poor and devoid of content, filled with the most generic of description. The detailing that the book uses are so stupid, like when Madhav is on the station, he tells us he ate puri-aloo. Yeah, so what? Is it a essential thing to say? There are no book-like things, we are just given briefs, about the location, I’m on a railway station, okay, the characters, he’s a snob, okay. There’s nothing about how the station looks, what is going on there, what is the narrator thinking while he’s on the station, or why a character is a snob, what’s his motivation in life. There’s no depth to the proceedings, no dialogues make you pause and wonder, nothing in the characters to make you cheer for them, just plain boring stuff, a simple plot to sit a movie on.
If you want to enjoy Half Girlfriend even a bit then I suggest you skim through it, don’t pause and think what happened, try to read it in two hours then you might enjoy it.
My Ratings: 1/5
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Read my other reviews:
Amish's 'Scion of Ikshvaku' is both entertaining and bland at the same time. Here
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