Book Review Chetan Bhagat : half girlfriend…. What’s good in it for an English Learner.

Book: Half Girlfriend; Author: Chetan Bhagat; Publisher: Rupa Publications

Pages: 260; Price: Rs 176

Chetan Bhagat, the has been writing for years, and his books have sold in big numbers for many reasons that he chooses the right words that easy and tells the story in a format that’s most acceptable to the Indian reader. We have been treated to Five Point Someone, One Night at a Call Centre, The Three Mistakes of My Life, 2 states and Revolution 2020. The less known non-fiction book ‘What Young India Wants’ did not sell as many copies which was expected (no surprises his non-fiction did not cut the ice with the audience he generally has).

Now, we get Half Girlfriend – my fourteen year daughter liked it (the plot setting that is an English learner) and requested me to read – five times before i touched it!. As I spoke my friends and read the reviews,  ‘There has already been some feminist outrage over the crudeness of the title, but as we begin to read we find out that Bhagat simply repeats his standard settings – a college, a common activity and a girl”

Like in all of Bhagat’s other novels the language remains simple and easy for someone with not so good English to follow the story, the hero, a man, suffers from a lack of self esteem. Like in most other novels, the girl he chases is beautiful, talented and we are given the impression that she is too good for him. (like in many other books!)

Additionally, Madhav is from a village in Half Girlfriend, which means the city/village divide is even higher, and the difficulty of his task to win the favor of this girl even greater. He comes from Bihar, the most ‘talked-about’ of the Indian states, and the most backward (a stereotype like all Punjabies want to re-settle in Canada) . He meets and falls in love with a beautiful girl from Delhi. Delhi girls, by definition, are all beautiful, fair and wear short clothes (stereotype again!). Bihari boys are closet chauvinists who freak out when denied the favor of the opposite sex, and utter choice, crass abuse in Bhojpuri (Mathali or Magahi) . Thus, Bhagat manages to reinforce many stereotypes about India and Indians.

What Yash Chopra was to Bollywood in the 90s, Chetan is to Indian literature today…. same old story served in new manner- a plot that cannot fail until the public really changes (which is less possible in 5-10 years).  As I said, His books are in simple English, the script is rehashed, it reinforces stereotypes, and there is a boy chasing a girl (usually in college or after classes).

We get similar fare in Half Girlfriend, except that Bhagat now wants to prove the point that a country bumpkin from the ‘worst’ state in India can end up with a very rich, very beautiful, very ‘modern’ girl from the most sophisticated college in Delhi.

Though I have pointed out the similarities in most of Chetan Bhagat’s books, there are some stark differences between Half girlfriend and the likes of 5 Point Someone. Revolution 2020 is the only one I have not read. All his book title have a number in it this one has half and its half the fun too as i got in reading his first book. five point still remains is best work and looking at the writing style has has adopted it does not seem that he will change.

Half Girlfriend has really exposed Chetan Bhagat, not to be an imaginative as a writer. The earlier books were readable because most were based on Bhagat’s own life experiences. He could relate to the matter and hence expressed it better. He has done good amount of research in all his books.

The last two books fumble for the lack of relevance and context (they have reduced in the relevance for sure!). Half Girlfriend clearly shows that Bhagat has been unable to break out of the tried and tested boy-meets-girl script even after the incidences ceased to have basis in his own reality. The fact that he cannot think of a fresh script would point to his inadequacies as a writer. Bhagat in this book, also fails to tell us why a high-class metropolitan girl would fall for a rural boy with no talent except at basketball. While this is not impossible in real life, the reasons behind it remain unexplored until the very end. Chetan Bhagat’s book can be accused of relaying more on chance encounters, which means we as layperson could also get such chances of learning English from our girl-friends or boy-friends. In reality this does not happen!

Here’s another blow: Most of Bhagat’s other books held a lesson or moral for everyone to follow, however mediocre the expression was. Half Girlfriend is devoid of moral teachings. This is not to say that the book is an immoral piece of work – just that it’s a rambling love story lacking in moral purpose. There si motivation for people to speak better English to gain self-esteem and therefore some confidence – which is also better is plots like English-vinglish as movie.

But is that the worst of it? No. Would it be reasonable if I were to say that the book propagates the idea that if you seemed desperate enough to win a woman’s heart, she’d finally give in? In short, the philosophy that the girl always means yes even if she says no, as long as she’s being friendly.

One thing that can be said about Half Girlfriend is that it is less boring to read than Revolution 2020 ( I left it mid-way when once I picked it). This may be ascribed to the Delhi connect, which appeals to the Indian metropolitan crowd, and the stereotypes of Delhi women and Bihari men which everyone seems to love reading and assimilating into their minds. Of course, there’s the fact that Bhagat again manages to satiate the Indian appetite for dreamy, mushy romance. And sex.

So, the million dollar (or Rs 176) question: Is it worth a read? Only if you are a hardcore Chetan Bhagat fan, because it’s pretty standard plot (once again).


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