Haider

haider-poster

Haider
Release date: October 2, 2014
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Tabu, Narendra Jha, Shahid Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Aamir Bashir, Lalit Parimoo, Sumit Kaul, Rajat Bhagat, Irrfan Khan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda

Before you proceed to read this review, and try to form your opinion about the film, I’d like to give you three strong reasons to just get off your seat and go watch Haider. Except you’re in the theater waiting for the film to start.

“Inteqaam sirf inteqaam laataa hai, aazaadi nahin.”

“Jhuk ke jab jhumka main choom raha tha
Der tak gulmohar jhoom raha tha…”

“Chota na bada
Koi lamba hai na bona hai
Kabar ke dadab mein lambi neend so na hai”

If these three pieces of literary genius don’t propel you into the stratosphere of Haider, you should read on.

In a land struck with insurgency, and forceful counter-insurgency measures by the army, heavily under surveillance throughout all times, Vishal Bhardwaj replaces the conflicted land of Denmark with an equally conflicted region of Kashmir in his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Haider could have simply been the story of the title character’s revenge against his Uncle Claudius from the play, i.e. Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) avenging the death of his father Dr. Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha); but it isn’t just that. Bhardwaj and his co-writer Basharat Peer choose to play up Hamlet’s mother Gertrude’s undecided nature about the men in her life, be it her son or her husband or her brother-in-law. Gertrude is called Ghazala in this universe and she’s vital right till the end.

Haider-Ghazala

Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor) is the hijab wearing lover of Haider, her brother (Aamir Bashir) much like Laertes from the play has traveled to another town for his studies after initially opposing strongly to Arshia’s affections for Haider. Interspersed with the Kashmeeri accent, every actor brings a certain earthy charm to the characters they are playing. Arshia dancing with gay abandon in Haider’s clothes is one of those moments which brings that earthy charm with a hip touch.

Haider’s ‘antic disposition’  starts off with the rattling of the provisions and powers of the Kashmir Pact from 1948, the Geneva Agreement succeeding that and the final nail in Kashmir’s coffin, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Section 370 of the Indian Constitution. Shahid Kapoor picks up the intensity of a fire-breathing dragon and never cowers down hence that moment. He picks up the bottled, and timid Haider and transforms into this all-knowing mad man. The faces that he makes, mixed in a potent combination of naive innocence and sheer viciousness when the moment asks.

Providing an emphatic social commentary on the state of affairs in the region, Haider is beautifully poetic in its dialogues, photography and song picturizations. Be it the melancholic Jhelum which sings of the blood soaked and the screams muffled by the river Jhelum, or Arijit Singh’s most soulful composition of this year ‘Khul Kabhi To’ in a Casablanca-ish setting, or the explosive puppet dance drama in Bismil, I have never enjoyed the traditional Hindi song-and-dance routine as much, ever before.

Khul kabhi toh...

Pankaj Kumar photographs Haider with a broadly extensive repertoire of angles. My personal favorites again coming from the continuous tracking of the camera during Shahid’s storytelling in Bismil, the shades and shots used to create a certain unease between Ghazala and her son, and also Arshi’s dementia. The red scarf, the red hood and the red knitting cloth are so eerie, you don’t need a vivid emotion to tell you what happens next.

How well is Bismil shot!

Bhardwaj retains the individual traits of the characters from Hamlet, yet refusing to dwell on a very far-flung climax sequence, and even the murders with said poisons that curdle a man’s blood, he utilizes the real-time scenario of his Hamlet’s geography. Shakespeare is present in spirit, with a constant Hindi rendition of “To be or not to be” which Haider refers to question the existence of the being. The background score plays the theme from Aao Na and is so tantalizing that you simply want the song to start playing with THAT powerful entry of Khan.

The film employs the services of many actors, some in bits and some in chunks, Kay Kay Menon and Shraddha Kapoor embody Khurram and Arshi to a fault, while Shahid and Tabu own their characters by customizing them. The film in its entirety is a surreal depiction of a revenge-drama which could possibly eclipse all of Bhardwaj’s earlier adaptations and creations. Haider is a telling story with political undertones, and a film that is perhaps the most bold and vivid attempt at integrating the gloom of Kashmir with that of a character as conflicted about his rage as the people of that region about their identities and the collective concept of mainstream nationalism.

Witty, smart, poetic, scenic, passionate, and relevant, I can embellish this piece with more adjectives for Haider all day long.

My rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

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