Full nonsense – Half Girlfriend

half-girlfriend-review-chetan-bhagat

“My school needing toilet as nobody able to toileting when toilet time coming”

If you thought this was one of the latest Santa-Banta jokes doing the rounds on watsapp, think again. This  instead is a line spoken by Madhav, the hero of Chetan Bhagat’s latest work “Half Girlfriend” as he tries to prepare a speech for, hold your breath, none other than Bill Gates. And this is the state of his spoken English after having graduated from, yes hold your breath again, St Stephen’s college.

For a long time I’ve wondered how Chetan Bhagat managed to become the bestselling author in India. Then recently somewhere I read about him wanting to “make India read” and it all made sense. His books, by his own admission, are not for the classes but for the masses. And in our country if you can produce something- a good, a service, a movie or a book – that caters to the masses, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Who can beat the collective power of the teeming millions? And a book that costs less than a pizza, is written in the manner of spoken English, complete with the Bihari/Bhojpuri touch to it, gives you a glimpse into the hallowed portals of St Stephen’s College (or as pointed in the book “English types call it- Steven’s”) and takes you through a hurried trip of Manhattan, it is bound to be a winner- at least sales number wise.

Before I attract the wrath of the all the torchbearers of “Hindi our mother tongue” bandwagon, let me clarify that I have nothing against Hindi. In fact, this whole mentality of equating English speaking with well educated and cultured as opposed to Hindi speaking with the lower class and uneducated reeks of a colonial mindset just like equating fair skinned with beautiful. Neither am I making a case for High art that caters to the elite as opposed to pop art for the commoner. In today’s world of fusion, this line stands blurred.

My problem with Half Girlfriend, quite to the contrary is that it does nothing to break these stereotypes. Instead, it reinforces them. The protagonist “Myself Madhav Jha”, despite his relentless pursuit of Riya, the rich English speaking Marwari babe fails to convince us of his “love” for her. All that one sees is a boy from the backwaters of Bihar besotted by a girl who seems straight out of a Bollywood movie. Despite Riya making it very clear that she is not interested in Madhav in “that way”, that a no means a no, just does not sink into him. In fact, that he cannot speak English has nothing at all to do with her refusal. She just does not feel that way for him and one can see Riya’s point of view. Instead of a rapid English speaking course that the book contains for free, what Mr Bhagat could have tried to teach the Madhav Jha’s of our country is to learn to accept a girl’s no as a no. Bursting into crass vulgar Hindi when an English-speaking girl refuses to go to bed with you isn’t exactly the best way to bridge the gap between the “English speaking monsters” and those who still introduce themselves as “Myself so and so”.

For all his championing of women’s causes and telling men to respect women, Chetan Bhagat’s protagonist fails to show the same respect towards the heroine. The book rambles on, with all the predictable twists and turns of a Bollywood movie to reach a Karan Johar type denouement in the bars of New York. Only if all “love stories” could start from Dumraon and end in Manhattan! And only if Chetan Bhagat could, for once, have broken the clichés instead of reinforcing them. That however is not to be. As for the whole “English bashing” in the book, all I can say is by way of a quote from the book itself – that English is a “global language” rather than a “foreign language”. It is all very well to be proud of and know your mother tongue. But to do so by belittling the English language or its speakers reeks more of a colonial mindset than learning the language that suits your needs and carrying on.

 

 

2 States

2states

2 States” brings home, at times poignantly and at times humorously, the bittersweet truth that every married Indian couple knows, often much to their cost- that in India one marries not an individual but his/her family; that the journey between falling in love and getting married is a painful, arduous task involving many more people than the one you fell in love with; that like it or not, for all our modern outlook and viewpoints, we are inextricably caught up in our background and community.

To think of it, the movie doesn’t have anything new to offer. Boy meets girl; they fall in love; all is hunky dory until marriage time when the parents, who belong to different communities, need to be won over. After the usual hiccups, everyone relents and all’s well that ends well. Add to it a few more stereotypes like dysfunctional father-son relationship; vulgar, loud and flashy Punjabis vs refined, boring “Madrasi” and this is “2 States” for you. Yet, there is a freshness about the movie, that despite it being overstretched into 2 ½ hour of screen time, it reaches out to you.

In a way, this Dharma Productions movie takes off from where most other Karan Johar movies ended. Yes there was a dig at the cultural mindset of Gujaratis in Kal Ho Na Ho and at the rich vs poor dichotomy in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham but nowhere was this cultural Diaspora the protagonist itself. The candyfloss romance in the hallowed portals of IIM-A is but a backdrop against which the diametrically opposite 2 States meet and clash. The younger generation, played ably by the effervescent Alia as the Tam Brahm Ananya and by Arjun Kapoor as the reserved, gawky Punjabi Krish, is able to look beyond the cultural differences and foresee a happy future for themselves. In fact, with their cosmopolitan outlook and mindset, where pre marital sex is as normal as having a cup of coffee together, they don’t even strike one as coming from disparate backgrounds and communities. Enter the parents and the proverbial hell breaks loose.

The movie carries the cliché of loud Punjabis and cultured Tamilians to its extreme with Amrita Singh playing the loud-mouthed, though well meaning, Punjabi mother and Revathy, the soft and silent Tamilian mother, very convincingly. Yes, there are exaggerations but one can overlook those in the name of creative/poetic license. Alia Bhatt is riveting as Ananaya and Arjun Kapoor is able to hold his own in playing a character so different from his earlier movie. The seasoned veterans as the supporting cast make it lovely ensemble. With decent music by Shankar-Ehsaan and Loy and picturesque locales, the movie holds your attention despite numerous dips in the 2 ½ hours of running time.

I am no fan of Chetan Bhagat, his novels or ramblings. The only reason I did watch 2 States was that somehow the promos reminded me of “3 Idiots” and I was hoping that “2 States” the movie would be much better than 2 States the novel ( even though I have not read the novel), pretty much like Five Point Someone was not even a patch on 3 Idiots. In a country like ours, where every state has its own sub cultures and communities as different from each other as humanly possible, a cultural clash of 2 states is a bit of an oversimplification. Yet, it drives home the point that like it or lump it, Indian marriages are not between two people but two families, two communities, if you please. If you realise this truth before marriage and decide to work through it, you have a movie like “2 States”; if not, you have one of the typical saas-bahu tamashas or a Suraj Barjataya type extended family sagas. Either way, the tragedy is not the family or community involvement/ interference. The tragedy is if the couple succumbs to these pressures and differences and loses sight of their togetherness. “2 States” drives home this point beautifully and for that alone is worth a watch. Now, maybe, I will overcome my aversion of Chetan Bhagat and read the book as well.

The Unbearable Itch of Reading Chetan Bhagat

                     “Yeh ishq ishq hai, ishq, ishq” …so goes a famous qawwali from an old Hindi movie (Barsaat Ki Raat) that discusses love ,ishq, in great detail. When I was a child and had an unrelenting urge to just keep on fiddling with something that did not benefit me or even intrigue me in any way, my dad had his own rendition of this age old classic for me –“Yeh itch itch hai, itch itch” – not itch as in scratching but itch as in a longing restlessness to do something. This habit has not died down even now as I discovered much to my cost.

                         I happened to read Mr Chetan Bhagat’s five tips to women on Women’s Day and could not resist but post my reflections on. All would be fine if it ended there but no. I had to dig up and read many of his old blog posts- WHY?I ask myself. I don’t even like his writings or his sermons and advices. “Yeh itch itch hai, itch itch”…. thats all that I could come up by way of an answer.

                        What I have realised is that Mr Bhagat is obsessed with numbers. Look at the title of his books – “Five point someone”; “One night @ the call centre”; “The 3 mistakes of my life”; “2 states”; “Revolution 2020”. Even his blog posts are loaded with numbers.“Five things women need to change about themselves” being a case point and the other post that compelled me to write today- “Open Letter to The Indian Change Seekers” – too has a lot of numerical juggling in it. Maybe it’s the background in investment banking talking. And yes, he’s very fond of “open letters”. But more on that another day.

                           To be fair, I haven’t read most of his works. “Five point someone” I just about managed to run through; “One night @the call centre” made me panic that the night I had picked it up would be the end of me and as for “3 mistakes of my life”, all I knew was that picking up that book was one definitive mistake of my life. And thereafter regardless of the lucrative price tag his books carry, I never ventured to buy another one. Only that I chanced to come across his blog and the irresistible itch to read them took over.

           After  reading the advise he gave to women on the auspicious occasion of Women’s Day, I came across his “Open letter to the Indian Change Seeker(http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/The-underage-optimist/entry/open-letter-to-the-indian-change-seekers)  inspired by the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape that saw unprecedented protests. Bad news for the protesters, who in any case, have long since gone back to their humdrum lives- Mr Bhagat doesn’t approve of the way they had gone about their protests. In order to make his point clear he goes on to “explain” India.  Move over A.L. Basham,  Bipan Chandra. Mr Bhagat is here to do the honours!

                   What follows is a mind boggling jugglery of numbers wherein he divides the Indian population into 4 categories and in this whole “Threes” and “Fours” game pretty much lost me. The point I think he was trying to make was that the “Threes”, i.e. the upper middle class, the likes of him and you and me, are using our new found power for self serving purposes just like the “Ones” (our political masters) and the “Twos” ( Industrialists and Capitalists) have been doing all along. The “Three” need to include, take along and also fight for the cause of the “Four”, the vast majority of our country who live in abysmal conditions. To make any change happen, the “Threes” should fight for the causes of the “Four” also- “only then is when true change will happen” he proclaims.

        No doubt there is some merit in his arguments. A modern sensibility has to include and at the same  time make concessions for traditional and conservative attitudes. Any change or revolution from the grass root level alone can work. To that extent we all would agree with him though there is nothing new that he is saying. However what intrigued me in the entire piece is a “holier than thou” attitude. He talks of the “Threes” misusing their media power for their ends. Who doesn’t? Writing, publication, success are today more about being media savvy than actual merit. He ought to know that better than anyone else. The one true test of any great literature is the test of time. How his works fare there is yet to be seen and well, anyone’s guess.

        What has he, whom Time magazine called “one of the 100 most influential people in the world” done for the “Fours”? It is one thing to be speaking on National Development in air conditioned halls of various conclaves and entirely another to be actually contributing towards the welfare of mankind, number tags being irrelevant.

                Media is what made him into a youth icon as it did many others. Isn’t it a tragedy of our times than none of these icons are willing to accomplish anything beyond pay token lip service? He himself says that he is a “Three”. How about preaching by doing? Why not set an example for us lesser mortals by accomplishing something for the masses?

       Why have I zeroed down on him and no one else? No it’s not simply my “itch” to do so but because he,unlike others, is one of the “most influential 100s” worldwide. And because I feel upset when people, who excel in one particular field ,assume that they are the know all and be all of everything else as well. Apparently he was a successful investment banker and thereafter became the best seller author though, to my mind, with mediocre novels. Does that also make him an authority on every matter and every ill  that plagues an individual or class or society? Even if so, why not preach by example? And why not, for a change, think out of the box? Churning out platitudes in different phrases doesn’t take much. Following them through does.Or maybe he doesn’t really mean anything? Maybe writing these posts is as much an “itch” for him as reading them has become for me. And this “itch” is a very dangerous thing-“yeh itch itch hai, itch, itch.”