By the time I was about twenty minutes into "Half Girlfriend", the idea of turning away and staring at a blank wall for the remaining duration of the film began to feel like an infinitely better option. This is a movie about characters that are so vapid it truly takes nerves of steel to follow them on their long-winded, predictable journey to romantic fulfillment.
Bihari boy Madhav Jha becomes instantly smitten by beautiful Riya Somani when he spots her on the basketball court of their posh Delhi college where he's secured a seat through the sports quota. He's an awkward young fella who can't string a sentence of English; she's the hip, rich girl who's at the most interested in shooting hoops with him. Alas, never the twain shall meet.
Working from a script based on Chetan Bhagat's novel, director Mohit Suri puts his protagonists through their paces…uniting them, separating them, uniting them, then separating them again…and so it continues until you've lost count and interest both.
The conflicts keeping them apart feel contrived, and Suri's treatment of what is intended as a sprawling love story spanning years is clunky and ham-handed. Arjun Kapoor's Madhav is a lumbering fool with (pardon the pun) half a brain, no more. He's a pathetic chap who sulks and whines and wallows in self-pity when he isn't stalking the hell out of Riya, both in college and long after they've graduated. All of this is meant to endear him to us, even as he continues to struggle with the language…although it must be said that Katrina Kaif probably learned Hindi in less time than it takes Madhav to not pick up English.
Shraddha Kapoor's Riya doesn't fare much better. All designer bags and cool threads on the outside, she's a tortured soul with family issues who warbles tuneless English songs when she's hurting or escapes to wait for it the top of the India Gate to get away from her life. Her relationship with Madhav is complex, to say the least, including her idea of what a 'half girlfriend' is supposed to mean. Don't ask me, I figured it means she can kiss him when she feels like, but it's hands off as far as he's concerned.
An overlong and frankly pointless subplot in the film involves Madhav returning home to his village in Bihar where he immerses himself in volunteer work at the school run by his mother in order to get over his heartbreak. The piece de resistance or the final blow, you decide is a scene in which Bill Gates shows up at the village, or rather someone on whose body the American billionaire's mug has been digitally and tackily superimposed. You'll want to cry.
There is virtually no redeeming quality in this film unless you count Vikrant Massey's brief but perfectly pitched turn as Madhav's fellow Bihari roommate and friend. Even poor Seema Biswas is one-note as Madhav's stern, judgmental mom. The music offers some reprieve, but it's overused as if to underline or heighten every emotion, lest you forget to feel it unprompted.
The film's two leads just don't have it in them to lift these stilted characters off the page. Both Arjun and Shraddha are labored, and their chemistry has less fizz than a cola that's been lying around for a week.
Mohit Suri, who knows how to whip up drama and create moments, is woefully off his game here. "Half Girlfriend" is a misfire of epic proportions. Blame it on the book, or the script that it spawned, but this movie is excruciating to endure. I'm going with one out of five. It's the cinematic equivalent of an ulcer.