I’ve always maintained that a book should be entertaining, irrespective of the language it’s written in or the quality of literature used in composing it. In fact, I consider myself one of those “non-English types” to whom this book is dedicated to. I loved Chetan Bhagat as a story-teller since Five Point Someone, and have followed up reading all his book released since then. I had an alternative like/dislike relationship with his work – I loved Five Point Someone, disliked Three Mistakes Of My Life, loved Two States, disliked Revolution 2020, and was totally pissed off with What Young India Wants. The cinematic adaptations of almost all his books were good (3 Idiots and Kai Po Che were exceptional cinematic adaptations, while 2 States the book scored over 2 States the movie.) Enough about that though, moving over the actual topic now. Did I like Half Girlfriend? My answer’s YES.
*SPOILER ALERT (Not anything major though – I’ve ensured not to give away important plot-twists)*
Madhav Jha is a blue-blooded, national-level basketball player hailing from a small town in Bihar, and in spite of his poor grasp over English, manages to score a seat in Delhi’s reputed St Stephens college in sports quota. Here he meets Riya Somani, a chic girl belonging to one of Delhi’s elite families, who unlike Madhav is super-fluent in English. Their common passion – Basketball – makes for an ice-breaker and forms the connect which matures through several stages. Madhav has feelings for Riya, and though Riya considers him a great friend, she’s not into the same mode as Madhav. He proposes to her, she declines the proposal. This continues every now and then, with her rejecting the girl the guy every single time, until the guy loses it to desperation and blurts out Deti hai to de, verna kat le (which literally translates to f**k me or f**k off). It was a cheap shot, and Riya reacted as any self-respecting girl would. She walked out of his life never to return again, until days later when she hands him her wedding card.
Madhav is heartbroken, and after completing his graduation he ditches his high-paying corporate offer and moves back to his village Dumraon, helping his mother with running the village school. Now running a school requires funds, and his mother, the Rani Sahiba of Dumraon, has been paying out everything off her own pocket to support and run it as politics and political leaders have stashed in all the government funds. Gates Foundation is visiting India, and now the political leaders turn to better the school in order to better their own image. Madhav latches on to this opportunity, but there’s a catch – he has to deliver a speech in English to the world’s richest man to secure the funds. Can he do it?
St. Stephens hadn’t bettered Madhav’s English, and to brush it up for the speech, he decides to visit Patna, where he has a chance encounter with Riya, and their friendship blossoms once again. Riya helps Madhav with his English, and disappears after he delivers the speech and secures the grant for his school, leaving behind a letter in which she reveals that she has cancer and just has three more months of life left in her. Her journal discovered three years after her death uncovers darker secrets of her past.
Bhagat ensures reader engagement for most part of the book, and there’s simple humor peppered throughout the story ensuring ample entertainment. The author manages to Indianise the story in every bit possible, and the layer of emotions are such that almost every romantic idiot shall find a thread or two of their own lives weaved in the plot. The book has other sub-plots featuring marital violence, philanthropy that adds to its gravitas. Readers looking for novelty in the script would be disappointed much, but for a breezy light read it’s entertaining enough. It’s the perfect 4-hour-book, and perfect fodder for a Bollywood script. The last-minute predictable twist is sure to attract whistles when translated onscreen.
My minor disappointment with the book – Why did Madhav hand over Riya’s journal to Chetan? I know there’s an explanation for this, that he and Riya used to read his novels together, but still that doesn’t make it an explanation strong enough as to why you’d hand over your beloved’s journal to a complete stranger. Also, the parts with Madhav’s friends/relationship-experts seems a little too stretched. Rest all is pretty smooth. The narrative’s linear most of the time, and the prose is everyday.
To sum it all, Half Girlfriend is a simple love story, which holds mass appeal and will find its audience in both the book and the movie (which is already announced, by the way). India’s biggest bestseller has a definite winner in his new book.