Haider 2: The Movie
Spoiler Alert: The article discusses actual movie plot, the film and all its nuances . It is a pretty long post and I hope that you’d find it interesting enough to read till the end. The previous part of this series covers the background of Haider in case you’re interested >> Haider 1: The Background
So after all that background, let’s talk about the movie itself – Haider. It doesn’t really matter if you know Hamlet or not, though it would enhance the experience if you know. First things first – Haider is a fictional story based on Hamlet and it is set in Kashmir. The film is essentially about the central character Haider, as an adaptation of Hamlet, and Kashmir has been used only as a backdrop. The screenplay is by journalist Basharat Peer and Vishal Bharadwaj himself. It contains around 10 events from Basharat Peer‘s book titled Curfewed Night. Basharat is an Indian journalist of Kashmiri ethnicity, based in New York (More about him at the end of the article). His first hand knowledge and perspective about real Kashmir is evident in Haider. This films shows Kashmir like we have never seen before in a Bollywood movie. Another ace VB has here is cinematographer Pankaj Kumar (‘Ship of Theseus‘ fame) – he is a magician. He not only makes those frames look unbelievably beautiful, but he also captures soul of the cinema wonderfully through his cinematography, so you can always sense that gloom and fear even in those beautiful locations that he captures. The pace of movie is slow and it unfolds carefully & diligently and I wouldn’t miss a single frame here as it has so many connotations.
The film starts in 1995 in Srinagar, India (Yeah, it says India) and stays true to its time. It is a story of Haider (Shahid Kapoor), who has been sent to study in Aligarh since his mother Ghazala (Tabu) fears that he might get involved in dangerous activities given the dubious state of affairs in Kashmir. Haider’s father Dr. Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) is a humanitarian doctor who doesn’t hesitate to help a militant with his medical problems, and decides to treat a militant at his home since it is dangerous to take him to the hospital. Someone informs the army officers and they take Dr. Hilal Meer away for harboring militants and he somehow ‘disappears‘ after that. Worse still, their house is reduced to debris by a military officer to kill the militants there. Haider returns home to Kashmir on receiving news of his father’s disappearance, on his way he is interrogated & detained at the military check-post- and then he is helped by his journalist girlfriend Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor), who assures the military officer (‘Masala Dosa’ in her words, depicted as a south Indian who insists that Anantnag is not Islamabad, the only Islamabad that exists is on the other side of the border) that Haider is a student, poet and not a suspect for them. Haider is shaken to see ruins of his house and then he gets shattered as he watches his mother laughing & singing with his uncle, Khurram Meer (K K Menon). Moreover, this is just after few days of his father’s disappearance and their relationship is now evident.
Ghazala is now a half-widow in Kashmir since her husband has disappeared and there are several such stories where people taken away by the army just ‘disappear’ somehow. There is one disturbing scene when an old man is requesting the lawyer Khurram to rescue his son who has been detained by the army, and Khurram tells him that only way to save his son is to actually get him accused in some false crime so that there is no chance of ‘disappearing‘. Khurram contests an election and wins it to become an influential person in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Haider is searching for his missing father without much luck. Arshia’s brother Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) and her police officer father (Lalit Parimoo) warn her against meeting Haider, but she continues to meet him nevertheless. A suspicious stranger Roohdaar (Irrfan Khan) informs them that Haider’s father is dead and his own uncle Khurram is responsible for his father’s gruesome murder. Haider also learns that his uncle Khurram was the military informer and he was in turn informed by his own mother about the militant being treated in their house. Roohdaar conveys last message from Haider’s father to avenge his death by killing his uncle Khurram, who betrayed his own brother and having an affair with his mother. Haider is devastated to learn about his father’s death, and there is yet another story that Khurram narrates him. According to Khurram, Roohdaar is an ISI agent who actually killed his father since he learnt his secrets during their time together as inmates in the army detention camp.
Haider is utterly confused and not sure whose version of his father’s death is true. What follows later is Haider’s journey on the verge of insanity, his pent-up anger and deep sadness. And of course his dilemma – “To be or not to be!” Haider (as well as Hamlet in the original play) is indecisive, he is contemplative & uncertain and often slow to take action when there is an opportunity (as it happens when Khurram is confessing his crime during his Namaaz/prayer). Yet, when he acts, it is usually rash and violent as it happens when he shoots Arshia’s father who shows up with a gun while Haider is confronting his mother in the ruins of their house (similar to famous curtain scene is Hamlet, when he kills Polonious). VB has adapted both these scenes quite well in the local context. And Haider’s psychologically complex character is challenging to develop and act, but VB and Shahid Kapoor both have managed to pull it off quite well.
This part of the movie explores really intricate layers of emotions between Haider and his mother Ghazala, and they both have played their parts extremely well. The story becomes more complex, and I personally loved the way VB has handled some of those transformations from Hamlet to Haider. So this powerful, energy song Bismil performed against the backdrop of ancient Martand Sun Temple, and that is VB’s adaptation of Hamlet’s ‘a play within a play’ – I think it goes with the movie quite well. Haider’s father’s ghost scene shows up quite intelligently without actually losing any sensibility of the narration – it stays in the twilight of a dream and haunting mystery. And yes, despite avoidable song in the graveyard – the Haider’s scene with the skull seems very apt there, yet another brilliantly woven Hamlet’s highlight. I think the best part is VB is insightful enough to capture the soul of Hamlet, yet courageous enough to narrate it in his own way as he deems fit, to the extent of deviating from Hamlet’s end as the film closes. IMHO, the result of this in Haider is brilliant and mesmerizing in most parts.
Obviously, the idea is not to narrate the plot/story verbatim – most of us already know what it is all about. What stands out for me is the gutsy treatment and idea of merging Hamlet with Kashmir backdrop. Hamlet says, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark”; and in an Indian context I can’t think of any other state that would fit it well enough (Haider says, “पुरा काश्मिर ही एक कैदखाना है!”). There are lot of hidden gems and some really courageous scenes. And this is where, I believe VB’s Haider rises to another level altogether. I loved many of them, but plan to list just a few favourites here.
One disturbing scene that I already mentioned above is about an old man’s son disappearing and Khurram offering him to get him accused in a false criminal case, and that just disturbs you imagining how traumatic it must be for families of innocent people getting detained, and then disappearing without any trace afterwords.
Then there are some dialogues and intense expressions that haunt you long after the movie is over… one such scene is the scene between Ghazala and Haider. And yes, this scene has VB’s signature visuals of mirror reflection between two central characters Haider & his mother.
Haider and his mother share a special bond in the film. He immensely loves his mother, abut he is unable to deal with her betrayal and her relationship with his uncle Khurram that would be culminating in a marriage soon after they know about his father’s death. Her love for Haider is paramount in her heart, as it becomes even more evident towards the end of the film. There is also a subtle hint of incestuous temptation between the two of them, especially from Haider’s side as he breathes his mother’s fragrance; perhaps searching for the same warmth and security that he associated with it as a child or maybe there is something else. All this is so beautifully captured in this short scene between the two – full marks to the screenplay, the director and the actors!
In this scene Ghazala tells him how Haider as as child was jealous of his father touching his mother and he would often fight with him. To which he blurts out, “And now uncle touches you, what do I do with him?” (और अब चाचा आपको छुते है, उनका क्या करू मै? ) This scene is brilliantly performed by Tabu & Shahid Kappor – you have to give it to Shahid Kappor for showing his anger, disgust, some glimpse of madness and all this wrapped in tongue-in-cheek humour. He expresses all this in just few moments through his intense eyes and few facial expressions. It can send chill down your spine and one could instantly connect with the pain of this young man who really loved both his parents and can’t think of his mother with another man.
As you might have read/heard elsewhere, there are two Salmans in this film (representing Rosencrantz & Guildenstern from Hamlet) and they provide some lighter moments in this otherwise serious and dark movie, but their killing in the end is rather barbaric (though some gory details of this scene have been deleted from original Haider footage). That scene is amazing in terms of cinematography (Pankaj Kumar rocks!) – showing beautiful yet gloomy & scary landscape effortlessly, the irony and frustration of stones against army, cops, their power, Ikhwaan, and their advanced weapons. The battles seem as uneven as it could get! Despite Haider’s violence and killing two Salmans with those stones, you actually feel for Haider, as you already know that they were out their to kill him anyway.
Another subtle & intelligent direction by VB is when Arshi’s father (Lalit Parimoo) cooks biryani for her and feeds her with his hands a few times, and gently tells her to inform him about what messages Haider is receiving from Roohdaar and his next action plans so that they can take care of him. The poor, naive Arshi falls prey to her father’s devious tactics. Lalit Parimoo has portrayed a mean but deceptively gentle police officer and father quite effectively without using any gimmicks.
There are also some subtle, but meaningful references in seemingly casual conversations as well, and it’s more like playing intellectual treasure hunt when you notice them. One such is a passing reference is about Kaul saab, while Khurram and Arshi’s father are talking about an abandoned home. Khurram casually mentions about they (Kaul family) getting ‘shifted‘ to Bombay and then you notice that Kashmiri Pandits were in exile by 1995-96 and how it was casually referred as ‘shift’ by remaining locals there.
Another subtle, apparently funny but disturbing scene is about a common Kashmiri man who wouldn’t enter his own house unless someone interrogates him and checks his ID. Co-writer Basharat Peer has played this small cameo. These small scenes do not exist without a reason in VB movies, they convey what they have to and they stay etched in your memory.
Haider has taught us a new word Chutzpah rhyming with AFSPA in this film, and though there is some criticism about its correct usage and pronunciation in the film, it has been intelligently used in the film is this scene and Haider’s monologue after his transformation following his father death. IMHO, this perhaps is the most courageous political statement made by this cinema (or any other cinema about Kashmir as far as I know), and I am really pleasantly surprised that Indian censor board has allowed to present it this way. Hats off to VB & Peer for this gutsy piece! Again, Shahid is insane & intense enough to pull it of so well –
There are lot of such scenes & moments that stay with you long after you have left the cinema hall. Some Kashmiri reviewers of the film have also complimented VB for maintaining the local dialect (Srinagar pronounced as ‘Sirinagar’, pronouncing ‘d’ in loved and all that). It would be impossible to extend this list further, there are so many of them surfacing in my mind as I write this. But let me stop here, it is already getting too long.
On acting front, the cinema truly belongs Shahid Kapoor & Tabu as son & mother. They both are exceptionally good in their unconventional and extremely complex roles. A special appreciation for Tabu as her role is negative for most part of the cinema and playing Shahid’s mother at her age is also commendable by Bollywood standards. Shahid is a revelation here, not sure why he chooses to do ‘Saree Ke Fall Sa …‘ and all that nonsense when he can do ‘Bismil’ and powerhouse performances in such movies. He has tremendous untapped potential behind his boyish, romantic looks and I genuinely hope that he doesn’t get painfully neglected by Bollywood like his talented father Pankaj Kapur. I am very curious to see how he transforms and chooses his next films after this role in Haider. I believe this experience must have been a turning point for him. This duo (Shahid & Tabu) is ably supported by K K Menon and Irrfan khan ( in a short role) and it would be redundant to say that these two actors perform really well. Let me say that they both live up to high expectations they have earned for themselves. Shraddha Kapoor brings some innocence and charm to this dark film, but probably she is the weakest link in this cinema as far as acting is concerned. But again, she has been handled quite well by the director and she is acceptable as lovable, naive Arshi in love with Haider.
The music is good and songs like Bismil and Jhelum Jhelum help the narration, but some others do distract a bit. Though I am not complaining much when Gulzar pens them and they are composed beautifully by Vishal Bharadwaj. The song Do Jahaan with few Kashmiri folk stanzas sung by Shraddha Kapoor is soulful, but the complete song is not included in the film. Though, I’d happily buy the OST album for this one song alone! 🙂
Talking about the music, I am also glad that VB is making some old gems popular through some of his films, in ‘Dedh Ishqiya‘ it was Begum Akhtar’s Woh jo humme tumme quarar tha and in Haider it is Gulon mein ran bhare by Arijit Singh (Though I’d prefer Mehadi Hassan version any day). The song is apt for the Kashmir set-up and is used as a link between Haider & his father quite well.
Last words for the director, writer, producer & composer Vishal Bharadwaj. I think the best part of this film is its conception and execution. I am quite fascinated by the idea that he has blended Hamlet so well in the Indian context on Kashmir’s background. And he is clear from the title itself that it is Haider’s story, Kashmir is used very effectively only as a backdrop. He has done it remarkably well in Omkara, Maqbool and now Haider. For me it is difficult to choose between Omkara & Haider – I didn’t like Ajay Devgan much in Omkara, though I think Omkara is a better film overall.
This Shakespeare films trilogy by Vishal Bharadwaj (Maqbool, Omkara & Haider) has a particular thread of betrayal by a close relation and all three films involve illicit man-woman relationship. Of course, in Omkara, the betrayal is more of Omkara’s suspicion rather than it being real, but the common thread runs between the three. In Maqbool as well as Haider, Tabu’s character is involved in an affair with other man which is instrumental in assassination of her husband/partner. Guess this is very peculiar of Shakespeare who quoted in Hamlet, “Frailty, thy name is woman”. Though Shakespeare’s plays are more than 400 years old, they have found growing interest in adaptions in various cultures & languages. Not only literature lovers, Shakespeare’s work has been even referred by founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud for the complex characters and their interpersonal relations. Freud read William Shakespeare in English throughout his life, and it has been suggested that his understanding of human psychology may have been partially derived from Shakespeare’s plays. It is encouraging to see directors like Vishal Bharadwaj doing justice to Shakespeare’s work through this trilogy with consistent high quality.
Coming back to his latest Haider – I don’t know if it can be called as a GREAT cinema as per critics criteria, it even has some technical, factual silly errors in army operations as pointed out in this article. (Army didn’t have a RPG-7 in its inventory and the RL-84 Rocket launchers that it used never set buildings to fire. They just drilled holes through the walls. INSAS rifles in the movie set in 1995 when these weapons were introduced only in 1997 and few others. VB needs better research next time). There are also some obvious flaws in the narration and it definitely needed a slightly better editing. But frankly, it doesn’t affect the overall effect of the movie. For me, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts, and in this case I not only loved the small parts but in my opinion the whole is pretty impressive as well. It is definitely an important film by contemporary film-maker in India, and dare I add – it should be one of the important films in the Indian film history despite its flaws.
I am not a regular critic of cinema, but I am passionate about films and I don’t hesitate to write about my views when I feel strongly about a film. I am quite intrigued and impressed by this film. I have become quite restless ever since I have watched this film, and for the past 3 days I have read several blogs posts, articles, tweets, interviews and related stuff to know more about Haider, Hamlet adaptation and of course about Kashmir itself after Indian independence in 1947. And I would definitely like to add my own, personal opinions about all this.
The next part tries to discuss some issues, controversies & criticism about Haider and has a small list of references & further reading as well. >> Haider 3: Epilogue