Book Review: Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat

half girlfriendBefore delving into a critical analysis of Chetan Bhagat’s new book Half Girlfriend, let us skim over the plot.

Madhav, a ‘non-English’ boy from rural Bihar  gets into St Stephen’s college through his basketball prowess (sports quota) and falls in love with rich, elite, ‘English’ Delhi-girl Riya. He falls madly in love; she doesn’t. They become ‘friends’ — which in Madhav’s mind always means potential for something more.

They play basketball, he tries to kiss her, she dodges, he tries to kiss her, she dodges, he kisses her, she gets mad, he says sorry, she’s okay, they play basketball, he gets horny, he gets horny, he gets horny, he tries to sleep with her, she refuses, he says something in ‘crass’ Hindi, she gets mad, he says sorry, she ignores him, he says sorry, she says piss off, he is heartbroken, friendship over, story over? Not quite. He stalks her, he stalks her, he stalks her, he says sorry, she says she’s getting married to a rich, English-type guy based in London, he says wtf, she flies off, he’s heartbroken, he stops playing basketball, graduates, gives a shitty interview but still gets a ‘multi-national’ banking gig, but hates Delhi so decides to return to his home town in Dumrao where he is to be enthroned as the king of a crumbling, rural town. He will work in his mother’s rural school.

Life moves on. Blah, blah, Bill Gates, blah, Riya returns to India, to Patna in fact, she’s divorced, he’s still in love, they talk about life, he holds her hand, blah, blah, he falls more and more madly in love, they kiss, they hug, he’s in love but she retreats, saying she loves him more than the world but she has cancer and is dying and hence has decided to vanish forever. He is heartbroken. End of the story? Of course not.

Chetan Bhagat decides to make an appearance in his own story as himself. Bhagat encounters Madhav in Chanakya Hotel, who is still heartbroken and has found some old journals of Riya. Hands the journals to Bhagat and vanishes. Bhagat reads the journals and is so emotional that he calls Madhav back and highlights a couple of paragraphs. Important bits: Riya was abused by her dad as a kid; Rohan (her husband) abused her after marriage; Riya retreats because of these reasons; Goes to Patna to find Madhav in a sense, but knows Madhav’s mother won’t accept her, hence decides to fake her illness and vanish from his life forever.

The end? Not quite. Madhav knows this is true love and hence must literally cross the seven seas to find her. Goes to New York, becomes a lunatic searching for her across the city, finds her on the last day, the weep, they cry, they say the love each other.

Then he ‘enters’ her and their love is consummated. They have a kid, school is going well, everything ends on a Bollywood-tastic happy note.

THE END

Now let’s come to the criticism.

First the positives: The pacing of the story is quite good. It’s a fast, easy read — and a page-turner. Plot is predictable at most times, but decent enough.

Now to the negatives. There are a few points I want to make here.

  1. photo 2 (1)Perspective on Love:  Love in this story is equal to the male character (Madhav) stalking and hunting the female character (Riya) till she acquiesces and they fuck. I’ve seen this is other Bollywood movies (Raanjhaana) where the male character is young, passionate (horny) and obsessive. The female character (Riya) behaves like a ‘Good Indian’ woman should — by saying no, no, no. The hunt for the male character continues; He becomes ‘crazy with love’ and stalks her and screws up his life and does crazy things for her. ‘No means no’ means nothing in this world. The conquest continues until she acquiesces and he ‘enters her’ and stakes his claim. The role of the woman is simply to act coy and say no till she says yes. That’s about it. It’s really worrying because I see this happen in real life. I’ve had young male friends who have almost stalked female friends till they say yes, I will be your girlfriend. “I’m not interested, I don’t want to be your girlfriend, piss off” don’t seem to be available options.
  2. ‘Friends can’t be friends’: All this Half Girlfriend bullshit. Again this pisses me off because I see it play out in the real world. Why can’t a girl be friends with a guy without it meaning something else? Why can’t I walk down the street and smile at a male stranger without him thinking I (a woman) am hitting on him?
  3. photo 1 (1)English vs Non-English type — Divisions & The Other: Bhagat seems to be a marketing man. He is tapping a market, the non-English, first time English fiction reader market. But he’s playing a VERY dangerous game. By almost pandering to the sense of insecurity felt by ‘rural, non-English’ types — he is heightening divisions in society. He is saying: I know you, rural, non-English type. I feel your pain. These snooty, snobbish, elitist English-type folks will never understand folks like you. They’ll just laugh and judge you. You will never be as ‘good as them’ — just because you don’t speak a fucking language or you have an accent. But at the same time, Bhagat is saying read my books and I’ll teach you how to speak good english. Once you read my books (which are as good as spoken english lessons) you’ll fit into ‘their’ world. Because that’s your dream, isn’t it? To fit into ‘their’ world. Bhagat is negating the identity of the ‘non-English’ types by simply labelling them as ‘those who are to be judged’ and the ‘English’ types as ‘those who judge.’ This is bloody ludicrous. If Bhagat really wanted to reach ‘rural India’ and the ‘Non-English types’ who he acknowledges in the first couple of pages, he would write in a language that was more accessible to his audience. But no, he is playing a game. It’s called the money game.
  4. Writing style & Characterization: Of course, the style is simple, and I have no problem with that. However, the style is weak. The language doesn’t capture Madhav’s voice at ALL. Bhagat makes an excuse for that in the very beginning of the book (in Madhav’s own voice) saying that he chooses to write in English because his Bhojpuri-tinted Hindi would make no sense to the reader. However, the English he chooses is casual and simply absurd at times. (For instance, when Riya gives Madhav a compliment “little cupcakes of happiness” explode inside him.) The characters are two-dimensional at best (Madhav — obsessed lover; Riya — pensive, retreating beautiful woman). There is no character growth or arc visible.
  5. Subtlety: Is non-existent in this story. Just read the back cover.
  6. Meta-Bhagat: Come on. Which writer places himself within a piece of fiction? Clearly one with an inflated ego. This is what Bhagat writes on page 149, when Riya is giving Madhav tips on how to improve spoken English: “And last, reading simple English novels, like, the one by that writer, what’s his name, Chetan Bhagat.”

Printed price is Rs 176, however, available on Amazon for Rs 99. Buy below to judge for yourself!

User Reviews and Comments

  1. vaibhav says

    dude, you didnt get it, did ya. The aim was to do smthing different, as he clearly did, he wasnt doing smthing gr8 he chose to resemble the situations of true eternal love, what most of us, hats off 2u Bhagat sir, if u r pissed off bout the half girlfriend then obviously u didnt get it,
    verdict- if u dont like the theme ‘go fuck yourself’…….

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