May 14
2017

Half Girlfriend Review / Therapeutic Rant on Love & Consent

Half-Girlfriend-ReviewI usually refrain from outright criticism, which is why you will hardly ever see 1 or 2 star reviews on here, as I do realize how much effort goes into a book, and believe me, I can appreciate that, but after going through a book like this and frying some of my precious brain cells, I feel like I am entitled to some therapeutic ranting, so that’s exactly what this post is.

Though I must mention something here, before any of you jump to conclusions about negative bias, and elitist tendencies, as I know this author elicits strong, yet contrasting feelings of admiration & hatred from diverse groups of people.

So here goes.. While it’s true that I’ve never been a Chetan Bhagat fan, I am not a hater either. For all these years, I was just a non-partisan observer. I had read a couple of his books in my teens, and vaguely remember liking 5 Point Someone. But after that, I never read anything by him for the last decade, though I was very curious about his writing as I had witnessed his rise to popularity.

So I went into this book with an open mind, and not with ginormous expectations either. But somehow this book managed to fall short of my already-low expectations.

In-fact, if I am really honest, I don’t even think of it as a real book. Because it’s more like an overly-detailed draft of a commercial Bollywood movie, which I believe is the author’s ultimate (if not the only) aim these days. And speaking of which, this time he has done one better – he has even managed to incorporate himself into the story-line (don’t ask, it’s all pretty lame, but what can we expect?), so he even gets to ‘act’ in the movie.

Which is fine (I mean the whole Bollywood sell-out thing), if that’s what he wants to do, but then why go through the whole charade of being an author? Why not just write the script and submit it directly? I am sure that will make him tons of money as well, because I believe most (if not all) his movie adaptations have been commercial successes. I personally have liked them all – from 3 Idiots to Kaipoche to 2 States.

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a bit, and talk about the book first.

Half Girlfriend – Summary

Half Girlfriend revolves around the life of Madhav & Riya, who meet in St. Stephens College, Delhi, where they connect over their mutual love for the game of basketball, and become really good friends in-spite of their very diverse backgrounds (Madhav comes from a small town in Bihar, while Riya grew up in the posh Lutyens Delhi). The story then follows the many twists and turns in their tale of friendship, love, loss and redemption across Delhi, Bihar & New York.

Half Girlfriend – Review

Now, coming to my review, I am breaking it down in some parts…

My thoughts on the blurb & supposed main themes of the book

Once upon a time, there was a Bihari boy called Madhav. He fell in love with a girl from Delhi called Riya. Madhav didn’t speak English well. Riya did. Madhav wanted a relationship. Riya didn’t. Riya just wanted friendship. Madhav didn’t. Riya suggested a compromise. She agreed to be his half girlfriend. 

Pasted above is the actual blurb. I don’t even want to get into the level of expertise displayed in writing this blurb, for now let’s only focus on the message.

So when I read this blurb, I felt the book’s main themes were the language divide in the country, and the concept of Half-Girlfriend. But boy was I mistaken!

The truth – the language divide is addressed, but isn’t a central issue between the protagonists. They had other demons to fight, ones which were rooted in their respective pasts, and the language thing was only a tiny hiccup on the way.

Sure, the male lead would constantly spout gyaan on how English is overrated, but his actions never backed this up. The book essentially chronicled his journey as he perfected his English, and tried to neutralize his accent, all while spouting the above-mentioned gyaan (the irony!).

Now as far as the concept of Half-Girlfriend is concerned, before I read the book, I assumed it was a ‘Friends with Benefits’ kind of situation. But of-course that would have been too mainstream for Mr. Bhagat. So what does he do instead?

He picks up a string of two words, which was mentioned all of ONCE by the female lead, that too in the form of a crazy convoluted arrangement, which did not make sense in the first place (but okay), and makes it the title. Done. Just like that.

I mean it does sound kinda cool and intriguing, and  significance is overrated,  right?

On the Story & Characters & Writing 

As unbelievable as it might sound, the writing was the least of my issues. I don’t mind what the author labels as ‘easy English’, in fact I am all for it. But for me, an actual plot is non-negotiable. A non-lame plot that is, with non-lame characters.

Though I must say that when it comes to the characters, initially I did try to give the author the benefit of doubt, and thought that it was all possibly sounding lame, because this character was supposed to be lame. But nope, the writing was the issue, as you can write about a lame character in a non-lame way. And why should the protagonist be this lame in the first place? Lame and aggravating (but I’ll come to that later).

And like I was saying earlier, the plot was mostly non-existent and what little of it there was, was irredeemable. Well until the last 20-30 pages, when it finally did pick up, but by then my brain was fried, and I couldn’t care less about what happened to anything or anyone.

On Love & Consent 

This is definitely by biggest grouse with the book, and the main reason I can’t bring myself to excuse the other small issues.

Firstly, I couldn’t get invested in the love story at all, because to me it never came across as love. The way I saw it, from Madhav’s end it was lust at first, then obsession, then stalking. And God only knows what it was from Riya’s end! My best guess would be – friendship at first, followed by a little flirtation, and some mind games. NOT love.

Then there was the issue of consent. And this doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings of the so-called love story. Whether love was in the equation or not, one thing was always clear – Riya was definitely not comfortable with Madhav’s physical advances, and she made it quite clear to him, on numerous occasions, and yet he persisted.

Here are some direct quotes…

"Madhav, please understand, I'm not comfortable with all this."
"Control yourself Madhav."
"She tried to extricate herself. I didn't let go."
"She stopped and glared at me until I let go."

"Can you just let me go? You are hurting me."
"Riya come on. I want you." 

I can’t tell you how much this annoys me. I mean impressionable teens are reading this stuff – where a misguided notion of love overrides the real issue of consent!

Even more aggravating is the fact that the author claims to be the representative of the common folk, and the “real” India. So my question to him is, assuming he considers this to be a representation of the existing reality, what is the message he wants to give out? Is this book supposed to be a worthless mirror? Which by the way, it’s not just a worthless one, but a pretty dangerous one too.

Because in the book, even though the girl resists the guy, and the guy understands that he did not behave well – in his mind, the guy also justifies it by statements like (and I am paraphrasing here) – ‘but I love her’, ‘why doesn’t she understand?’, ‘but I want to’, and so on..

According to me, the message that came across, seemed to be that, consent is not that important, so long as the actions are the result of “true love”, which of-course is also open to interpretation in this case, as like I said, it never came across as love to me.

Though that’s not even the real issue here. Because love or not, Consent is always important, always. And if we ever are to tackle the much-talked-about ‘rape culture’, books like these are counter-productive. Sure they are seemingly harmless at first, but that’s how it all begins right? By blurring the lines between right & wrong, by cloaking lust with love, by trying to justify what can never be justified.

Recommendation: I clearly do not recommend you to read this book, but if you are the rebel type, and have too much time on your hands, here you go…

Half Girlfriend (Amazon)

Though if I may make some alternative suggestions for folks who like romances which are set in India and are reflective of Indian culture, without highlighting the negative stereotypes, here are some books I suggest you read instead –

Jugnu, More Than Just Desire & The Madras Affair

That’s all from my end folks. I would love to hear from you guys. Did you guys read this book? Anything else by him? What do you think of the author? I feel like he has gone on a downward spiral from 5 Point Someone to Half Girlfriend. But I possibly picked the wrong book. Did you read anything else by him that you liked? Do share.

-Shantala

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Comments

  1. I love you. That is all. Thank you for the most honest reviews. Ever. It’s what I’ve always admired about you. The book, everything about it makes me cringe. That bit about impressionable teenagers is so true. I wish people thought before they wrote books.
    Shailaja V recently posted…Lessons & Learning: #AtoZChallenge ReflectionsMy Profile

  2. I liked Chetan bhagat’s writing till 2 states. But after reading revolution2020 ( Which was written for a movie more than a story, as you mentioned here about half girlfriend) I decided not to read his books again. I added this in my good reads ‘to read’ list by thinking it may be better than revolution 2020. But now decided to remove it. Thanks for the honest review.

    • Oh I am sure this is worse. Now I haven’t read Revolution2020, though I have heard it’s pretty bad. But believe you me, this can’t possibly be any better.

      I did like 5 Point Someone, the book and the movie adaptation. And all the other movie adaptations as well – Kaipoche, 2 States etc. Though I have a feeling that this book will not even translate to a good movie.
      Shanaya Tales recently posted…Everything Everything – Book Review (Spoiler Free)My Profile

  3. I can rant about Chetan Bhagat all day long, and mistrust people who say that “they love his books”. I’ve read 2 States, Revolution 2020 and Half-Girlfriend (does skim-reading count as reading?) And I’ve been in the same ‘brain-fried’ situation as you when I read Half-Girlfriend. The language put me off, and so did the justification that the book was written that way so that everyone can read it, even if they aren’t good at reading English novels. But maybe that’s fodder for another post, eh? 😀

    THANK YOU for being so honest about this book! I could relate with every point you made! 🙂
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  4. I have read a few of Bhagat’s books. Five Point Someone was the best of the lot. Actually, my husband who is from IITD nudged me to read it as it was about his alma mater. Bhagat was his junior. I stopped reading Bhagat after One Night at a Call Centre which was lukewarm. Three Mistakes of My life was above average in my opinion. I got the feeling that he was writing Bollywood scrips instead of books and hence I stopped reading him. This book seems really silly from what I’ve already read in other reviews. It is not even read and throw which I’ve done with a few authors in the past. But I guess he has his readership and one cannot argue with that. Thank you for an honest review as always. I absolutely abhor that bit about stalking a girl and not conforming to her wishes. I hate it when it happens in books and in movies. It sets terrible examples for everyone.
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  5. Oh dear I cannot believe you sat through this! Do you want a hug? A cookie?

    I read 5.someone back in college cos someone forced me to. But I felt that a lot of his work is autobiographical and he does not have the necessary imagination to write anything half decent. While the autobiographical part isn’t the problem, the writing definitely is. And yes, consent is a huge issue that should have been handled better (aside from what you’ve quoted, I’ve heard some other very disturbing lines from this book). I know several people, especially in college, who go through that phase of “I love her, why doesn’t she understand” He could have chosen to not glorify it this way, used his work to do some good instead. There were similar arguments about his latest, One Indian Girl as well. Similar issues, different theme.
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  6. Madam,
    Myself from village area. So I no read Englisss

    Thangu!
    Sid recently posted…Parenting: I confess!My Profile

  7. Probably your review is better than his book. I would have confirmed this if I had read the book but nope, not after I read those excerpts. I do agree that it’s displaying a really bad example… Specially since assault on women is so rampant in India. I hope atleast the movie is better than the book in this aspect. Loved your honest review.
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Beginner, once moreMy Profile

    • Can you imagine these dialogues in the movie Raj? They are BAD!!! I have seen the trailer and the hero comes across as so bloody obsessive that its scary! He just wants to go and teach her a lesson!! No the movie is definitely not better if the trailers are anything to go by!!
      SHALINI BAISIWALA recently posted…Please RT for good KarmaMy Profile

  8. Kudos Shantala for a mindblowingly honest review and I really wish CB would read it and send a reply!! You have raised very pertinent questions about a girl’s consent and a guy’s obsession – where are the lines drawn and by whom?
    I am saddened to see the so called Gen X heroes and heroines agreeing to submit to this mindlessness in terms of “work” and “creativity” and give it shape on screen which is watched by scores of ppl who anyways dont need an excuse to letch/grope a woman let alone stalk and abuse her!
    The recent Rohtak gangrape was a case of stalking which went awry with the guys obsession as he couldnt take the girl spurning his marriage proposal!
    Shame on CB and these young gen actors (IMO) for peddling this as “romance”!!!!
    Well done on your review – one tight thappad to CB!!!!
    SHALINI BAISIWALA recently posted…Please RT for good KarmaMy Profile

  9. I’m applauding you for reading his book and then writing such a fab review. I have honestly not read any of his books, having heard him speak once was enough. He’s just someone who attempts to be provocative and has succeeded in gathering a fan following of non-readers (in my opinion!).

  10. I totally agree with you! I regret reading this book. I was annoyed with the way the guy thinks he can do whatever he wants to the girl just because he thinks he loves her. Youngsters should definitely not read it! Well no one should read it!
    I really liked the way you have reviewed this book.

  11. I love your reviews. If you recommend a book, I read it. This one was never on my list and after reading your review never will be. Like Shalini says, stalking is not love and this is a case of pure stalking in the name of the girl not understanding the guy.
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  12. Well, I won’t be picking this book to read. Thanks, Shantala for such an in-depth review. I haven’t read any of his books but don’t feel I’m missing out. You bring up an important caveat regarding the ‘love’ issue and his persistence. I’m not entirely sure what happens in that scene but from what you describe, it’s a ridiculous message to send. That kind of scene could be written a million different ways and besides that is NOT love—not even close.
    lisa thomson recently posted…Ex Encounters-Coping With Graduation, Weddings, Recital SeasonMy Profile

  13. This is the best review, I have read, about how bad is this book. I stopped reading his books after 2 States, which was the only book I liked. You deserve applause for writing this honest review.

  14. Hahaha, someone sure seems to be in a foul mood, eh?
    I hear you sweetie! Ironically, I was a CB fan, and I remember, when I told this to our Sid, he asked me if I couldn’t find anyone better!!! (Sorry, Sid, you were so right!)
    The earliest books by CB, I enjoyed them a lot. I don’t remember the names, but slowly and steadily, his performance in the writing department began to deteriorate to such an extent, I can’t even think of picking up his book at the bookshop.
    So, I am NOT going to read Half-girlfriend, either.
    I loved your no-holds-barred review so much, Shan, that I am going to (blatantly) copy your unabashed frankness when it comes to reviewing books! You are my Guru Mata, as far as reviewing books is concerned, so I am entitled to some emulation of my idol, ain’t I? 😛
    Love!

  15. The kind of stuff that gets considered as “love” in this story sounds disgusting! God help the youth of today who read such stuff and try and live the kind of life portrayed in them!

  16. I read this review of yours sometime back but didn’t get time to comment since I was flying to India. I think it is because of such books and movies that rapes and harassment of women has increased so much in India. I liked his Five point something too but then I read Two States which was also like a Bollywood script. That book made me not pick up any other book of his. It’s better to watch the movie adaptation I guess. I wonder what made him popular. Even I don’t have any problem with his English and my problem is with the story itself.

  17. Ho-Hem! Ye Gods, am I glad I didn’t put myself through the rigors of this book! I totally agree with you on this fact that, CB’s books are sounding more like a film-script than a book. The last book of his I read was Two states, which wasn’t bad. But the other’s I couldn’t read beyond 50 pages. I think he should stop scripting romantic scenes…they have neither oomph nor finesse. Rather they are degrading! Your rant is thoroughly justified I am sure. I need to read Jugnu…! Brilliant, honest and candid review Shantala. I am assuming you will be skipping the movie adaptation of the same…hehehe!
    Kala Ravi recently posted…The White BoxMy Profile

  18. God I heard about these issues. If consent isn’t respected I will not give the author another chance. And considering how many people read his books he could really make a change!!! Sigh. Wasted platform

  19. I have never read Chetan Bhagat — he became famous after I’d left India. However, I’m glad I’ve never read him because this sounds atrocious. The language, the concept, all of it. As for the stalking = love, I hate that so much! It’s what Bollywood tends to espouse too. Stalk/harass a girl long enough and she will eventually be your girlfriend or wife. WTF?! People see that and think it’s ok. It’s abuse. Plain an simple.
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  20. Hats off to you for picking up the book. I read the title and somehow lost the nerve! 🙂
    I agree his works used to be good. I liked his sense of comedy and social satire especially in three mistakes. But it’s sad to see him becoming commerce-oriented and losing the originality which won him fans.
    Regarding consent, I couldn’t agree more with you. CB should be a more responsible writer. As a highly educated person, he could have done better.

    Thank you so much for recommending More Than Just Desire.
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  21. Oh, I really enjoyed your review Shanaya! Honest and well written as always. And from what I can see… no, will not read this book … it so annoys me when the “pushy” guys gets their way… really detest it… dont like the feeling I get reading what youi have to say about the book, and why you don’t like it – couldnt agree more. … Lots of love , and keep your write-ups coming – love your blog:-)
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  22. What a super honest review. I love the way you analysed the book and why you didn’t like it. I do not hate Chetan Bhagat with the intensity that most people seem to but he does cater to the lowest common denominator among readers. Oh and the quotes you highlighted – that is exactly my problem with books such as his – that they promote the idea of ‘I like her so how come she doesn’t she like me back?’. That is the worst kind of thought.
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  23. Wah..wah..wah… what english…the lines from the book you quote are so hilarious… I mean I never read a Chetan Bhagat book but I did know its just great english(: … still laughing… its like all the lines are so so bad, I mean a kid can write better, a teenage kid… all that sad now serious…weather this encourages rape culture, I don’t think so, maybe it does. It’s not good he makes advances to her that she dislikes… but again I love the movie 3 idiots… Chethan should write scripts for bollywood. I wanted to read a book called Stardust its Adult fairy tail, since Startdust the romantic movie I still find it nice… have you read it… I don’t think I want to read Chethan bhagat but yeah these lines give good laugh. I understand your brain fry coz it happened to me too reading a book from Indian Author… also about love but it was horrible… I like regreted wasting 3 hours of my time reading that book… anyway… great honest review btw… I hate books that don’t have some level of english and style and point.
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