(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
From Chetan Bhagat’s assembly line comes another Hindi film, Half Girlfriend, directed by Mohit Suri. After 2 States, this film once again has Arjun Kapoor in the lead role, who has a way of complimenting Bhagat’s creations. Just like Bhagat’s creations, Arjun Kapoor is also one-dimensional. Just like Bhagat’s creations, it is difficult to tell one performance from another, with Kapoor. Just like Bhagat’s creations, Kapoor too – in all his films – has this offensively sullen disposition that makes you want to shake him up and ask, what is it that you think the world owes you? Bhagat’s creations, at least a couple of them, have morphed into compelling cinema, in the hands of solid directors. Alas, the same cannot be said of Arjun Kapoor.
Sometimes watching Half Girlfriend feels like watching a parody. St. Stephen’s College in New Delhi becomes St. Steven’s College, the admission council officials of which speak in a forced, thick British accent. Even Riya’s (Shraddha Kapoor) family and friends have a way of sneaking in the accent as they converse with people from Simrao, Bihar. Riya speaks in one accent and sings in another. Arjun Kapoor’s Bhojpuri accent too comes across as forced, pronouncing every syllable with concerned precision. It feels like a parody when they say half-girlfriend with a straight face. I understand the characters are supposed to be 19 at this point but Suri makes it really difficult for us to buy into it. Bill Gates’s face makes an appearance, attached to a body so tall that he man-spreads in the front row during a school event. I wonder what Gates would think of that. There is overcompensation everywhere. Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is a basketball player and also a fan, and at every corner of his room there are posters. Apparently, the instruction was to get the paraphernalia of every NBA team so you have the Cavaliers hobnobbing with the Lakers. Is Madhav so evolved that he loves the game more than a single team? It’s interesting Bhagat’s protagonists are always academically superior, with the purest of intentions, but can be despicable men in their words and actions when dealing with others. That sociology degree from St. Steven’s (the one with a v) was of no help at all. If only Madhav had gone to JNU, we would have been spared the hat tip to Modi and his beti bachai beti padhao, all the way in United Nations.
Mohit Suri is not a bad filmmaker but some of his decisions here are confounding. There is a shot in the first half when Riya is witness to an incident of domestic violence at her home. It’s not her first time and therefore all she can do is look away. But Suri’s blocking of this shot is absolutely pedestrian. Not to mention the performances. Suri is able to pull off only one scene in the whole film. Riya and Madhav choose to go their separate ways for the second time in their lives and the scene as the train leaves the station with Madhav running behind works like a charm. The Kapoors try valiantly and Suri hits the spot. Only Vikrant Massey as Madhav’s roommate and friend, Shailesh, gives a semblance of a reliable performance. He protests everything Madhav does. He warns him about befriending Riya. He warns him about the hurt Madhav would have to nurse later. He is against Madhav developing an unnamed relationship with Riya. I wondered if Massey would break character, talk directly to the camera, imploring us to save ourselves. Or protest the very making of this film. Shailesh failed us all.