Bhardwaj’s Haider: A Brief Review

 

Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Irrfan, Kay Kay Menon and others.

 

When you go for Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, the beautiful, scintillating Kashmir does not greet you on the screen. Instead, the insurgency-hit Kashmir, heavy with uncertainty, unaccounted deaths and internal conflicts awaits you on the screen. Adapting one of Shakespeare’s longest and most complex plays into the trouble-torn Kashmiri backdrop, Bhardwaj effortlessly merges one man’s political ambition for power with the increasing internal unrest and a young man’s discovery of mortality, revenge and forgiveness in the aftermath of his father’s death.

 

Bhardwaj carefully implements the universality of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his Haider, adding plot twists of his own and reinventing title characters. Two of the major changes in Haider are those in the character of the eponymous hero himself and his mother Ghazala (Gertrude in Shakespeare). Bhardwaj’s Haider untangles himself from the eternal cycle of revenge, triumphing his mother’s words of peace over his father’s death wish for revenge. Ghazala, as envisioned by Bhardwaj, walks on the precipice of self-conflict and becomes a victim of circumstances rather than being a co-conspirator in the disappearance of Haider senior. Her husband’s inattention towards her and his preoccupation with work drives her to find solace in the arms of her brother-in-law, Khurram. Ghazala is far from being a deceptive, cunning and scheming queen personality. She, in Haider, is an overprotective mother who can do anything to protect her son.

 

Haider is a tragedy at both a personal and national level. Ghazala echoes the state of Kashmir when she calls herself a ‘half-widow’. Much like her ambiguous marital status post the disappearance of Haider senior, Kashmir is caught in a ugly truce between the Indian state, Pakistan and local insurgents:  unsure of its belonging and uncertain of its future. Everybody wants a part of Kashmir just as both Khurram and Haider want Ghazala for themselves. Ghazala’s self-mutilation towards the end of the film can be seen as her act of defiance, an attempt to emancipate herself from the conflict of being a loyal lover and a dedicated mother in self-destruction.  Haider , on the other hands, stands on the verge of getting dispossessed of a mother he loves to the point of obsession. The lurking desire to fight for motherland is evident in the young Haider. Therefore, Haider lives under the dual threat of losing both his mother and his motherland. His crisis is that of losing everything.

Irrfan’s conman avatar Roohdar embodies the ghost from Shakespeare’s Hamlet effectively because here is a man without a name, without an identity. He emerges out of smog and gets miraculously healed in the waters of Jhelum. He remains a mysterious, shady character throughout the second-half of the film, emerging out of nowhere and vanishing into nowhere!

The film’s cinematography brilliantly captures the horrors of war, the palpable vulnerability of a conflict-hit state and the tangible uncertainty of the insurgency of the 1990′s. The waters of Jhelum get murky with the blood of the deceased and become a makeshift grave for the unidentified dead. The pristine stretches of snow is interrupted with the blood and gore of blood lust. The shadows on the prison walls become synonymous with the horrors of detention and interrogation. Here is a Kashmir that is a heaven where all hell has broken loose! The hauntingly beautiful background score adds to the bleak ambiance of the film. Melancholy becomes almost a language in Haider. The stellar cast pitches in with commendable performances.

All said, Haider seems to be a little indulgent and veers on the line of getting a tad over the top at times. However, here is a film that no cinephile should miss catching at the big screens, solely because it is Bhardwaj’s Haider more than anything else. And what a brilliant one at that!

 

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Maria

 

It was half-past moon when I heard the sobbing

echoing through the walls and raining upon my window.

I could hear your quivering lips on the other side!

Why were you shy Maria? Why were you afraid?

Of coming to me?

Did you think I’d sprinkle your tears

on the wounds you made on me?

I can hear your smell at the door…

I put my hand on the knob and feel

the heat of your skin…

I have been standing where you left me Maria

I’ve felt the sting of all those men making love to you.

I have seen your broken shadow twitching under the bedspread!

And every time I wanted to dip my fingers in your chest!

And pluck the black-hole from your heart!

But now that you’re at the door Maria

I’d lick your voice clean of all the sobs.

Pluck stars from the nest of darkness

and plant them in your hair!

So that every time the wind kisses your neck,

a song is born in the black-hole of your heart.

 

 

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Prayers for Bobby: Are we killing our own children?

Prayers for Bobby is a simple, heart-touching film. It does not boast of fancy locales, cutting-edge technology or high melodrama. Rather, it tells the story of a mother who is guilty of killing her son through her actions and her journey towards redemption. So Bobby is a teenager who grows up in a close-knit family in the suburbs with the dream of becoming a writer one day. But to his utter dismay and fear, he discovers that he is not like the other guys his age. Bobby has a secret and he realizes that this secret would turn his world upside down. Unable to deal with the torrent of questions and doubts that plague him day and night, Bobby attempts suicide. However, his failed attempt brings his secret to the limelight and all hell breaks loose in the happy family. Bobby, who has always been his mother’s favourite child, discovers revulsion and rejection in his mother’s eyes. He fights a losing war with himself, torn between his own happiness and his mother’s rejection of who he is, until one day, unable to come to terms with her repulsion, he leaps from a bridge.

As one might have guessed by now, Bobby was gay. He was one of those who the society tags a ‘freak’, an ‘abnormality’. His mother’s obsession with purging Bobby of this ‘disease’ makes her blind to her son’s struggles. She fails to see that Bobby is dying everyday, a little at a time! Bobby’s suicide starts to feel like a murder: a murder of an innocent at the hands of societal norms, the murder of a child at the hands of his own mother due to lack of acceptance in her! Bobby’s fall is the fall of humanity into the abyss of prejudice and discrimination. When Bobby dies, so does a part of humanity. The movie pokes the latent but vicious dragon of social stigma in the eye.

Bobby and many others like him die everyday. All we do is come up with opinions, counter opinions and more opinions. Here is a society that only excels at debating. Questions are many, answers are pre-formulated and prejudiced opinions. What goes unnoticed in the cacophony of voices are the lives that are at stake. Social stigma and the fear of being a social outcast are becoming inconspicuous but potent weapons of mass murder. In such a scenario, are we not becoming guilty of genocide? All it takes is acceptance and support from the dear ones, from the ones they love. The taboo that we associate with LGBT is not something made in the heavens. It is not something that we should blame on the gods and religious faiths. The taboo is born out of our minds, out of the lack of acceptance in us, out of our disbelief, out of our rejection of anything that is a little different from what the masses do! And such a taboo can only disappear the day we decide to let go of our faulty prejudices. After all, god only helps those who help themselves. The syndrome of homosexual discrimination and detest does not have answers in the holy books. The only cure lies in our minds and perceptions. So before you call someone ‘gay’ or make fun of a guy because of his ‘girly’ mannerisms and vice versa, spare a thought. Would you have done the same had people discriminated against you for choosing choosing tea over coffee?

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Attempts at a love poem

I knock on your door

you take my hand

and we run…

We are knee-deep in grass.

drops of sunlight

rain down upon us.

I collect a handful-

you give me a chase,

we run through the grass

we stumble and we fall,

scattering a few sun rays.

Our breaths become a

whistling wind through reeds.

I tear away and collect

your smiles.

Days from now when

the shadows grow long,

I shall keep them

on the window-sill.

And find rain, storm and sunshine

in your smile.

 

 

 

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Storyteller

So here in my studio

in a deserted attic,

I try to make stories

out of memories of moments.

Nobody finds me here while

I develop pictures:

black and whites, sepias,

colours and monotones.

I hang them up

and let them dry.

But I can not drain the voices

trapped in them!

Unfinished stories float before me

like vanishing patterns of a kaleidoscope.

Do they even know?

That I want to make stories?

These people and these things that

move about in rectangular frames?

Inside my studio in the attic

the gargle of traffic moans,

banging from wall to wall,

trying to find their voices

in these photographs!

Stories enter the storyteller’s den.

They never leave!

I try to make stories of moments

in pavements and in streets!

I want to tell stories.

Instead, stories come to me.

And I am left to wonder

what happened after this…

 

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A pair minus one

Since I started missing you a little

I got out on the street.

Night makes all the streets

look the same-

in your city and mine.

The guy who brushed past me

might have been a poet.

And I could’ve

found love with him.

But I walk since you’re not here,

lean on the rails of the over-bridge

and think.

So many shadows breathe

in its under-belly,

I lost one of mine there.

But since you’re not here

I keep awake. And wait.

Not for you to return-

but for me to turn over

a new leaf.

 

 

 

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Gogol’s search for identity in “The Namesake”

 

The Namesake  is the first novel by Pulitzer price-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. Originally published in The New Yorker as a novella, the book was later expanded into a novel of the same name which went into publication in the year 2003. It was later made into a film by Mira Nair in the 2006. The Namesake is a novel about the  search for an identity  set in the backdrop of Kolkata and the US.  In a lifetime, we comes across several identities: an identity we are born into , by default, at birth; identities forged from a scratch in foreign lands and identity that we want for ourselves. And when so many choices are offered to us, defining who we really are becomes a crisis in itself. Caught in such a web of identity crisis is Ashoke Ganguli’s son, Gogol, named in a haste after Ashoke’s favourite author Nikolai Gogol. Gogol Ganguli was supposed to be someone else but the very first identity tag that could have been him gets lost in mail. Gogol suffers from the condition of namelessness right after birth. And this is a condition that plagues him throughout the rest of his life. Ashima and Ashoke decide on a ‘good name’ for him as per the Bengali custom of naming, but, much to their chagrin, Gogol refuses to be known as Nikhil on the first day of his kindergarten. But growing up in the US proves a daunting task for him, with conflicting ideals inside and outside the walls of the house on Pemberton Road. Gogol refuses to identify with a name so abstract, having no apparent connection with his life. Bearing a name that is neither Indian nor American, Gogol finds himself stranded in the middle of two contrasting and conflicting cultures. The name to him is a baggage that he unwillingly carries , much like the Bengali traditions he is forced to follow at home. He is an outcast in a country that, technically, is is motherland. The decision to change his name is his first attempt at gaining a superior sense of individuality that comes only with being an American. However, what he does not realize is that Gogol symbolizes a rebirth, a new life for his father Ashoke until much later in the story when Ashoke reveals the tale of his misfortune to him. It is after this revelation that the name Gogol becomes a legacy, a souvenir of his father that he never fully inherits. The name which was like a cancerous growth to Gogol, threatening to come back even after amputation (read name change) becomes something he identifies the most with towards the end of the novel. So far, he is neither fully an American nor fully a Bengali. All his life he stays in the US and he never experiences the crisis and exhilaration that comes with relocating to a foreign land. All the women he gets involved with define him, to the point where he feels like a poor substitute in his wife’s life who eventually cheats on him with an old colleague. He never finds a home. He is one without a home, without an identity. Throughout his life, he tries to conform to a world, to a culture, to a lifestyle and to the ideal of an identity that eludes him. Gogol exists in the shadow of his father and outside Ashoke’s domain, there is no Gogol. The story falls into a cliff after the sudden death of Ashoke Ganguli. In spite of being the unremarkable MIT doctorate, in spite of leading a lack-luster, uneventful life, it is Ashoke who has more adventures than Gogol ever does, culmination in an accidental heart-attack that takes his life! The sudden loss of his father marks the beginning of Gogol’s journey of introspection.  For the first time ever, he looks inside instead of searching outside for who he really is. He realizes that Gogol never existed and never will exist outside Gogol. Like Dostoyevsky, Gogol of The Namesake comes out of Ashoke’s overcoat. That apart, he is equally an outsider at both Maxine’s and Moushoomi’s friend’s place. The space he finds himself in is not where he belongs. Caught in self-doubt, Gogol never finds the courage of accepting this identity given to him by his father until the very end, where he begins his final search for identity in a book gifted to him by his father on his birthday.

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Happily Ever After

She was sitting alone, all by herself in the bookshop, immersed in a book that was held open on her lap. All the people who buzzed around her, looking at books that they would never buy stopped and glanced at her. Even though she wore nothing fancy and had no trace of make-up on her face, she was pretty. Shafts of yellow light from overhead fell on her hair and made it look like the sparkling clay beneath a mountain brook. Her lashes made long shadows over her cheeks, which quivered as she shifted her gaze from word to word, page to page. There she sat, lost in a world that would never be hers while the world around, stared at her, marveling at the beautiful melancholy that she was! Time flew and the crowd in the bookshop dwindled, sometimes reaching a full tide and at times, caught in ebb. He entered the bookshop in a jiffy. He had to buy a gift for someone and he thought books were the best gifts that one could ever give to the other. Sadly enough, all the people he had had the chance of buying gifts for thought otherwise and all his Nerudas and Bukowskis would go unnoticed, or, at most, acknowledged by a curt, compulsory nod from their recipients. And that broke his heart, every time! So much was this so that now, even the thought of buying a gift was an ordeal to him. But he could not give up on books and sincerely hoped that someday he will find someone to gift a book to… His eyes fleetingly grazed over the different sections of the bookshop: Management, Travel, Cookery, Business and Commerce and then came to halt at her, in the Literary Fiction section. It was not love at first sight or any such thing for him. Just that he had never expected to find someone like her in a glitzy bookshop where accessories sold more than the books. She emanated such a strong sense of melancholy that he felt he might fall for her, at that very moment! There was a hidden sadness in the way she was biting the corner of her lower lip, almost piercing the flesh with her canine; there was the fear of unwillingly letting go in the way she thumbed the pages of the book; there was a lot of grief in the manner her other hand brushed over the page that she was reading, almost like it was a tombstone and not a page… He could not get his eyes off her.He wanted to lift those eyelids of hers and look into her eyes and find her pain. Yes, that was pretty much all he wanted to do. But this was a bookshop and he was a total stranger! So, all he did was buy his favourite book of poems and leave it at the counter with the cashier, asking him to deliver it to her before she left. And then, he lived happily ever after.

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