Sunday, October 26, 2014

half entertainer

Palace of Illusions, Angela's Ashes, Eat Pray Love, Bhima, the Lone Warrior...such are the books I have been reading for quite sometime now. So when I received Half Girlfriend as a birthday present, I was rather pleased. Ah! Something different, I thought.

So one not so fine day, feeling down and low, I thought I'd treat myself to something light and easy. I started reading it. I started smiling. I even giggled. Wow! its been ages since I actually giggled, that too while reading a book. So I proceeded bravely with this happy-happy feeling lingering in my head.

As it might be general knowledge by now, Half-girlfriend is the love story of a boy from Bihar. The backdrop in the first half of the book is the prestigious St Stephen's College, Delhi and the second half is Bihar. The narrative goes back and forth tracing the life of the protagonist, Manav Jha. A boy from a small town called Dumraon in Bihar gets into St Stephen's College in Delhi through the Sports quota. Does Manav's first love blossom? Does his life change? Answers to these questions go on to form the rest of the story.

So what are the characters like?

Manav Jha: Its nice to see a protagonist come with his own flaws and weaknesses. There have been many such memorable characters in literature but there is something in them that makes you overlook or justify their weaknesses. But it is not the case here. Also there is no noticeable growth in the character graph at all.  I shudder to imagine that Chetan Bhagat is somehow trying to generalise the behaviour of small town guys through the almost uncouth, unthinking actions of Manav Jha and even his friends. Manav seems to have just one motive all through his life. The Bill Gates situation is just a coincidence that he reluctantly takes part in. At one point after his graduation, his decision rises our expectations of him, but then nothing we expect happens. He just seems to be an overgrown teenager at the end of it all. So when he goes and achieves his 'dream' towards the end of the story, I couldn't help but think, "Oh? Did he have to cross continents and run 6 kilometers in the snow for THIS?".

Riya Somani. A shallow character, who doesn't do anything to the psyche of the reader. If there was an intention to weave a web of enigma around this character, the attempt falls flat I must say. Those diary entries also don't help her in any way.

The Somanis, the mother aka, Maharani, Rohan...all a bunch of stereotypes, something Chetan Bhagat has never freed his novels of.

The first half of the book has this fuzzy feel-good factor to it. I couldn't help but smile at the small funny observations. The Titan Watch ad couple, the biscuits...and many more. But then one starts tiring of it all. I almost felt irritated with the characters, the erratic movement of the story and ultimately with Chetan Bhagat himself. I am sucker for romance and all mushy stuff on earth but sorry mate, not this time.

The storyline looks very promising through the middle of the story but it lets you down terribly. I feel Chetan Bhagat had a rock solid premise on which he could build on something new and inspiring. I, in fact expected a Swades type of inspiration and purpose at a point.The feeling that one comes across is either that of a lazy author or an over-confident one, rushing to complete a Bollywood film script. We already know this book is ready to be made into a film and I actually found myself thinking about the cast. And Mr Bhagat has conveniently cast himself into it too.

It's a known fact that no one reads Chetan Bhagat for the literary value but I couldn't help notice several editorial errors in the book. A serious flaw in the narration I felt was that the editor ought to have decided clearly who the narrator should be. When the book starts off, the Chetan Bhagat is the narrator. Then the story takes on a flashback mode and the protagonist becomes the narrator. Once the flashback mode is over, Chetan Bhagat and Manav Jha take turns to narrate incidents in the first person. This tool can be extremely strenuous for the reader. Chetan Bhagat ought to be a little more considerate towards his readers especially since he thinks people can improve their spoken English by reading his books (I am not saying it, CB says it himself through Riya Somani.). The editors have also been overlooked a gross repetition of many expressions, one of them being "What?" so commonly used by youngsters today in various intonations to convey so many things. But we don't expect it from an established writer. He can't be running out of words? I am sorry but I had to pause reading the book at a point to check if I was reading the original edition or a pirated one because the basic rules of margins and page numbering are broken in many places. Alright, I am nitpicking now.

Yet, I would say that Half Girlfriend is one hell of a wasted opportunity. I will be last person to say a film or a book needs to carry a message. They work great as just pieces of art too. But  Half Girlfriend has neither style nor substance.

Read it if only you are die-hard Chetan Bhagat fan.