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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