Half Girlfriend: How Mohit Suri gave up a chance to make a vital point about child sexual abuse

Ankita Maneck

Mar 29, 2017 13:13:00 IST

Chetan Bhagat's book Half Girlfriend is being adapted into a Mohit Suri film starring Shraddha Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor. While director Mohit Suri will be following the book's story line for the most part, there will be a small change: the film will not be touching upon the child sexual abuse (CSA) plot line.

The director admitted to the change and gave his daughter Devi’s birth as the reason for not including the CSA aspect in an interview with DNA. “While Riya has some dark family secrets (in the film), they are not related to sexual abuse. I have moved out of that dark, sexual zone completely. I wanted it to be more of a love story and to deal with contemporary social issues relatable to women,” he says.

The cover of Chetan Bhagat's Half Girlfriend and the poster of the film. Images via Twitter.

The cover of Chetan Bhagat's novel Half Girlfriend and the poster of the film, starring Shraddha Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor. Images via Twitter.

Half Girlfriend, like all good stories, is an ill-fated romance that works out against all odds: Riya Somani, a posh Delhi girl, who speaks English very well, does something that would be deeply frowned upon in her circle — she starts what seems to be a semi-relationship with Madhav Jha who doesn't belong to the same social strata or economic bracket as her. While she lives in the world of Gucci totes and Prada shoes, the boy spends his time in a world lost in translation at the very distinguished St Stephens college in Delhi University. He struggles with learning English and this is a constant theme through the book.

Riya agrees she is romantically attracted to Madhav, but tells him they can't be physically intimate. On a superficial level, it is gleaned that this rule is made keeping in mind the class and caste differences. But as the book progresses, Chetan Bhagat alludes to the fact that Riya had been sexually abused by her father when she was young, and cringes at the thought of physical touch. Bhagat, by doing this ever so subtly, adds layers to his female protagonist transforming her into a three dimensional character from a rich-Delhi-girl stereotype.

Child sexual abuse is an ugly truth that is not spoken about by anyone. According to a women and child development ministry-sponsored report in 2016, 53 percent of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, but most don't report the assault to anyone.

Mohit Suri, in his quest to make a film for 'a contemporary Indian woman' still seems to think that abuse is a very rare social occurrence. By passing up an opportunity to address a sensitive subject in a nuanced way (through his film, that will be watched by — it is safe to assume — many thousands of people, for whom the message may be an important one), he is stigmatising the subject, when what is needed is more open discussion.

He could have instead, taken a leaf out of Imtiaz Ali's Highway. Alia Bhatt's performance as a survivor of child sexual abuse was lauded by the audience and critics both, and helped take her career to a different level.

Or Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding which dealt with the issue brilliantly and was a commercial success.

While Mohit Suri may have his own reasons for not including the CSA aspect in his film's story, by doing so, he has lost an important chance to make Half Girlfriend a platform that could have lessened the taboos that prevent victims of abuse from speaking out.

Updated Date: Mar 29, 2017 13:13:00 IST