Synopsis – Madhav meets a girl named Riya and falls in love. After stuggling to convince her to be his girlfriend, she half heartedly agrees to be his “Half Girlfriend”
My Take – I get it, translating a story from the pages of a best seller to a cinematic feature is not an easy job. It’s hard to imagine how a writer & director would go on to decipher an author’s published imagination, along with condensing an entire book into meager three-hours for reel, without managing to lose its essence. However, considering the plot line of this film based on Chetan Bhagat’s novel of the same name, it doesn’t seem like it was much of hard work. Author/writer/reality judge Bhagat aka the man of the masses has had a genius stroke of luck considering how well three (3 Idiots, Two States, Kai Po Che) out of four (except Hello) of his previous adaptations worked at box office. Honestly, I have never had the guts to read the novel, it’s not that I have joined the Bhagat hating bandwagon, it’s just that a book with such kind of a title somehow offends my sensibilities, clearly, director Mohit Suri decided he could make sense of the term and the material, mainly as his previous outings, which include films like Kalyug, Woh Lamhe, Awarapan, Raaz 2, Crook: It’s Good To Be Bad, Murder 2, Aashiqui 2 and even the atrocious yet very successful Ek Villain, have proved that Suri is efficient in delivering something good especially when intricate writing plays in, but with this film, like his last outing Humari Adhuri Kahani, the director seems to have lost the plot to cheesy one-liners to cliché romantic factors. Also, chiming in here, is Balaji Telefilms, who return to production after five or six consecutive flops, and yet again have found themselves financing a half-baked concoction that is neither here nor there, neither a romantic story nor a social theme, not entertaining and not in any way educative, but just simply awful and cringe-worthy. Kudos to producer Ekta Kapoor (the very talent behind the existence of loud nonsensical Indian soaps operas) & director Suri for providing us a chance to witness a film which released barely weeks after another Indian film (Baahubali 2), which still continues to manage grabbing eyeballs in the international circuit & captivate hearts across the globe, and somehow find a way to set the standard quite low again. Yup, despite sincere efforts from its lead, this romantic-drama fails miserably to strike a chord, mainly due to its poor writing.
The story follows Madhav Jha (Arjun Kapoor), a Bihari from the royal bloodline of Simrao, who comes to Delhi to join one of its most prestigious institutions, despite his deficit knowledge of the English language, however, being excellent in sports namely Basketball, Madhav takes advantage of the sports quote to get himself in to complete his intended B.A. in Sociology, with a goal of going back to his hometown and helping his mother (Seema Biswas) run her school for underprivileged boys. Once Madhav is in, he spots Riya Somani (Shraddha Kapoor), a state level Basketball player and falls in love. With a shared interest, the two instantly bond and start hanging out even outside the court, despite severe warnings from Madhav’s roommates especially Shailesh (Vikrant Massey) who states the class difference between him & Riya, a member of an affluent business family. Keeping everything in mind, Madhav finally raises the courage to ask her the status of their relationship to which she responds by saying she is his half girlfriend, more than a friend but less than a girlfriend. Confused by her answer and the constant nagging of his friends, Madhav tries to test Riya, which results in a severe fall out. Years later, after completing graduation, Madhav continues to be still heartbroken & decides to use his skills and time to help in the betterment of the school by applying for grant from Bill Gates foundation. However, as expected Madhav and Riya’s paths cross once again. What happens to their relationship? How the story moves further? Does she become more than a half girlfriend to him? Does their relationship status evolve? If yes, how? The film lacks two essentials. First, there is no visible chemistry between the leading actors. Their journey of falling in love is cut rather abruptly. Second, the love story isn’t palpable enough. It’s no wonder then that the convoluted mess, which goes on for over two hours, fails to tug at one’s heart. The whole premise of the film is that a boy falls for a girl in college and as it turns out the girl is holding herself from falling for the guy because of some estranged relationship between her parents. It’s a tried and tested formula in Bollywood. The hero goes out to search for this girl who keeps reappearing and disappearing throughout the film. I mean, the whole implications, the emotional down-turn, the longevity of his sadness looks all farce and shallow. You have the luxury of groaning through the story which goes from Delhi to Patna and eventually New York. The theme obviously doesn’t change – how Hindi as a language is the benchmark of status in society. Harebrained to say the least, the plot twists are silly. Riya is made to look like a tease evidently because of severe daddy issues. Every time her love story with Madhav gets somewhere, she takes off to a new land. Our hero will obviously not take no for answer. The pattern continues for what feels like eternity. For a love story as complicated, one’d expect a chemistry as strong, but no. Don’t. You won’t feel a thing – neither the romance nor their confusion. The two hardly ever appear to be on the same page except for one or two scenes. The film has quite a few unrealistic moments. Just like a person has a go-to person, they also have a go-to place. But for Riya, this go-to place happens to be India Gate. And no, not the India Gate we know. It happens to be India Gate’s terrace. Like it’s normal to fool guards and climb up and just chill. Even if you haven’t read the Chetan Bhagat novel that’s the source for this film, you may have heard about the contentious scene that arrives some 80 pages in. Madhav is sitting with his college friends, asking them how he should proceed with Riya. Their advice is to “make Bihar proud”; in short, call Riya to his room, make a move on her, and find out whether “half girlfriend” means “no sex”. This scene is reproduced almost identically in the film.
The only dilution is what Madhav says when Riya rebuffs his advances: “Rehti hai toh reh, varna kat le (Either stay, or get lost).” The rest of the film seems to exist only to say: “But really, Madhav’s not a bad guy”. He wants to build toilets for female students in a school in his village—an endeavor that’s almost comically virtuous. The film does try to connect with the social mission of sanitation facilities and brings a take on the importance of female education, which honestly is a great idea, but somehow the concepts don’t blend naturally with the screenplay. By the time, Riya enters his life again, she’s gotten over the incident in college, and the two of them seem set to walk off into the sunset, a half-Hindi, half-English song on the soundtrack. But this wouldn’t be a Suri film if the path of true love ran smooth. Cue tears, drinking, rain, self-destructive behavior, more rain, and seven lovingly crooned songs that all sound the same. Just when we feel we are into some slightly improved version of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Madhav spots Rhea, and finds out that the confused girl had left him because his feisty mom had told her to step out of his life as she was a divorcee and had left things – like colleges and husbands – halfway! Of course, now mommy is sorry – she did not know the girl was dying, see? The film has as many as six music directors. The album has around ten tracks that cover approximately the whole of the film’s running length of 135 minutes. But the whole plot is so bad that all the generic sad-love Mithoon ballads in the solar system can’t drown out the shiny, half-witted and aspirational Bollywood-ness of Bhagat’s writing. Plus, what’s Bollywood’s obsession with ruining the Bihari accent? Just because it’s Bihar, they called Bill Gates Bill Gate-sva. Of course, the film also does a blotched-up VFX job & made Bill Gates’ so called special appearance seem rather miserable. Which brings us to the prime problem with the film, what is half girlfriend? It’s probably a sheepish and purist way of describing being friend zoned a theme explained better in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. So, a girl is a guy’s half-girlfriend just because she has some parenting issues bothering her. She also has an ambition to sing in the finest cafes of New-York but her song playlist doesn’t go any higher than just one cheesy-boring-translated song. The two Kapoors as lead pairs try their sincere best, but as with Shraddha in her last three films, everything else goes wrong. Her expressions many times are bang-on though. Here, Shraddha Kapoor seems to be repeating herself from her performances in Baaghi and OK Jaanu, although in the 1st half, she managed to pull it off well but in the second half, when the drama kicks in, it’s hard to take that innocent looking face seriously. Arjun Kapoor, despite his limited acting skills & tremendous screen presence, is perfectly cast as the lumbering hero who looks far too old to be playing a college fresher but is nevertheless well suited to rising and falling in love. He plays his character well with right dose of puppy dog eyes & makes an earnest effort to speak in the Bihari accent. In supporting roles, Vikrant Massey justifies his character of Madhav’s savior roommate, while Seema Biswas and Rhea Chakraborty are likable. On the whole, ‘Half Girlfriend’ is a halfhearted attempt to create a romantic film with zilch chemistry and severe loopholes.
Directed – Mohit Suri
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 135 minutes