I already recommended the movie in my No Spoilers review. If you aren’t a rom-com person but still want to know what it’s about, or if you have already seen it and want to do an in depth discussion, this is the place!!!!
Whole movie in two paragraphs:
Arjun Kapoor is a Prince from Bihar, meaning an old family with a tradition of doing good and leading the people, but no English skills, no money, no respect. He gets a sports scholarship to a fancy Delhi university where he wants to study sociology in order to better help his people. At the university, he notices Shraddha Kapoor, a sporty girl from the rich crowd. He is nice to her and she is nice to him and they start spending a lot of time together and finally she kisses him. But then she invites him to her fancy birthday party and he realizes he isn’t quite part of her crowd. His friend Vikrant Massey tells him this rich girl is just playing with him, she isn’t serious, it’s one sided. With that in his mind, he invites her back to his dorm room one afternoon, she falls asleep on his bed, he kisses her, she rejects him, and they have a fight. They meet one more time when she tells him she is dropping out of college and getting married.
Arjun finishes college and returns home to help his mother run their school and charities. He points out to his mother that there are no female students in their school. In an effort to find out why, he discovers the biggest problem is lack of bathroom facilities for girls and it will cost a lot of money to add bathrooms to their school. He investigates funding and finds the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which offers grants for bathrooms. His application is accepted, but he is warned that Bill Gates makes his decisions based on emotion, so he needs to talk to him directly in English in order to convince him. While he is in the city applying for the grant, he runs into Shraddha again. She is working and living independently, she left her husband after a year and a half because he was abusive, her parents did not support her, she is on her own now. They pick up their friendship again and she offers to help him with his English. He brings her back to the village and introduces her to his mother who HATES her because she is not of their class and is divorced and can’t make him happy. He gives the speech to Bill Gates, but then Shraddha disappears leaving behind a note that says she is dying and don’t look for her. Arjun gets an internship in New York and tries to forget Shraddha, but at the same time is looking for her because he remembers she dreamed of being a singer in New York. His friend Vikrant tries to convince him to forget her again, even sets him up with a very nice new potential girlfriend, but he can’t forget. He finally finds Shraddha and learns she WASN’T dying, she just lied and said that because it was the only way she could think of to convince him to let her go. Happy Ending, married and back in the village.
I knew the outlines of the plot going in, I had spoiled myself on wiki. And based on just the plot outline, I was picturing a really stupid male fantasy story. The pretty rich girl on campus notices him, he tries to kiss her and she gets mad for no reason, years later she comes crawling back to him and teaches him English, and then ends up giving up her whole successful rich life to live in his village. It’s like an action film heroine, rich girl and poor boy and just wants to crawl in the dust following him around and being of service to him.
But NO! It doesn’t feel like that at all! Not in the way it plays out. Full credit to both Shraddha and Mohit Suri the director, we understand from the start that it IS a two-way love story. The “Half-Girlfriend” of the title isn’t about him being allowed to spend time with and dream about a rich girl outside of his grasp, it is about the rich girl wishing she was free to offer more and hoping he will accept and understand the compramise.
Shraddha isn’t a rich snotty girl he has to “win”. She is a nice normal person, and they become friends in a nice normal way. He compliments her on her basketball playing, she thanks him and asks him to play with her, he suggests they go to a movie together, she says yes, they go to movies and street markets and just hang out, like normal boy-girl college friends anywhere.
What really makes the whole thing work is Vikrant Massey’s character, speaking out the trite tropes we are all expecting. He is the one who suggests Shraddha is a spoiled rich girl that Arjun has to “trick” and “win”. He suggests that Arjun should have a chip on his shoulder and not see her as a person but as a prize. And he suggests that Shraddha is just using him as a fun vacation from real life. By him saying it, we can see in stark relief that that is NOT the case. Shraddha and Arjun make eye contact when they are talking, he doesn’t stare at her short skirts, he appreciates her basketball skills. When they go to the movies he tries to hold her hand and she gently pulls away. He doesn’t push it, she doesn’t “lead him on”. She listens to him and appreciates and respects what he says. She asks him questions like why he touched her mother’s feet but not her fathers and is curious about his answers. And he does things like notice a scarf she likes and buys it to set aside for her birthday. We have Vikrant telling us how the world would see them, and then the contrast to how they really are.
The most important part of the film, start to finish, is that Arjun is passive in the relationship and Shraddha is the active one. Arjun is clearly there for her from the start, an open hand just waiting. It is Shraddha who has to go on a journey. It’s a tricky balance, Arjun is our protagonist and point of view character, but his narrative function is just as a conduit to Shraddha’s journey. I really appreciate that decision, from a feminist analysis point. If this were a movie about Shraddha, it would be about women for women. But instead it is a movie about a man for a man showing how a man can see and respect and appreciate a woman’s journey.
Through Arjun’s eyes, we see that Shraddha has no self-esteem. She isn’t even serious and aggressive in playing basketball until Arjun encourages her. She is too shy to sing in public. She is pretty and rich but thinks of herself as useless. Arjun starts her feeling like maybe she has a right to decide her own life, to find value for herself as a person. But she is scared to really break free, to leave the cage where she has always lived. That’s why his kiss scares her, she was just barely feeling confident in making her own decisions, and now she has to doubt herself again. The most important part of this early section is the reveal that Shraddha is getting married. It’s not that she is marrying-not Arjun, it is that she is getting married AT ALL. Arjun’s first response is that she is only 19, and second response is that she will have to drop out of college. There were little lines of dialogue earlier about her wanting to go to class and things, so we know she is taking college seriously. And now she has to leave? That moment makes it clear that the tragedy isn’t this half-started love affair, but Shraddha’s half-started life. No more school, no more basketball, no more friendship, no more singing, all of that has to get locked away as she turns into a wife.
Shraddha’s big effect on Arjun is that he goes home and wants to get female students into their elementary school. That’s what he got from their romance. He doesn’t drink himself to death, or try to stop her wedding, or any of that. He gets at the root cause of why they couldn’t be together, her lack of freedom and opportunities as a woman. Arjun’s very first appearance is him explaining that he wants to study sociology to understand root causes, and it ties together with this, his awareness of the root cause of his break up being lack of women’s rights.
Shraddha is the one who seeks him out again. Before they get back together, she has already left her husband and then left her family and gotten a job and independence. All for herself. And then she goes to Patna knowing she might see Arjun again, she makes that decision. This time, the relationship is fully in her control. And the end is fully in her control as well. She determines that she needs to forget Arjun and find a new dream. So she ends things in the one way that will stop all discussion and make her fully free, and then goes off and builds a new life for herself in New York.
It’s really stupid that she lies about dying, really REALLY stupid. But this is ultimately a Masala love story, we need that extra melodrama. Setting aside the lie, the rest of it is good. She sees that Arjun’s mother doesn’t like her, and she decides that she isn’t going to fight her way into yet another family, she would rather be alone. Arjun finding her isn’t some magical Love Quest, it is proving to her that he will fight for her, that she doesn’t have to make her own way any more.
I guess that’s the other part of “Half-Girlfriend”. The simple meaning is that Arjun is befriending a pretty girl so he can kind of play at dating her. But really it is that Shraddha feels herself to be only “half” a girlfriend. She can enjoy being with him, she can even kiss him, but she can’t count on him, she can’t expect to be fully respected, protected, helped. She can only enjoy half the privileges of being a girlfriend.