The third and final instalment in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Shakespearean trilogy (after Maqbool, 2004, and Omkara, 2006) is finally here after a long wait and a brilliant trailer, and is the real bang-bang you should be watching this long weekend. (See what i did there?)
Haider, 2014, starring always-dependable character actors Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, and Bharadwaj’s new favourite, Shahid Kapoor, devolves into a spiral of madness, possible incest, gunshots and bloodbath, over two hours. Adapting the Bard’s works into a watchable two-hour motion picture is no easy task, but Bharadwaj does a decent job of it once more, this time with help from the Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer on his first film project. Aided by his stellar cast, Bharadwaj once again proves why he is one of the most sought-after directors in India.
Far from Denmark, Haider is set instead in 1995 Kashmir, torn apart by civil war, crackdowns in the wee twilight hours, the air rent with gunshots, people living in constant terror. This Kashmir is nothing like the one on your travel and lifestyle channels and magazines. Instead, this is seedy, shady, scary, and far from pristine. The towering snow-capped mountains remain in the background; at the forefront is blood, betrayal, and a pervading sense of unrest and unease. Much is made of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the flagrant human rights violations in Kashmir, and the film does seem to be a mouthpiece for the cause sometimes.This bleak mood serves the film’s purposes very well.
Shahid Kapoor is inspired here, as he transforms from a love-sick, innocent poet to a deranged near-militant, blinded by hatred and his vow to avenge his father’s death. Observe the glint in his eyes, him trying to restrain his madness and get a grip on the situation, as he is rendered helpless in his quest for justice. Bharadwaj extracts a terrific performance from him. With barely any make-up on, Tabu has commanding screen presence. Torn between love and power, her real motivations remain unknown and her intentions misunderstood. Her scenes with Shahid Kapoor explore the play’s Oedipal complex, which is somewhat bold for conservative mass Indian audiences. Kay Kay Menon remains the power-hungry, despicable uncle and homewrecker. Irrfan Khan, doing classic Irrfan Khan, is given quite an entry. Shraddha Kapoor is just about adequate as Haider’s lover Ophelia, but really needs to work on her dialogue delivery. Two actors, subbing for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as Salman and Salman (the Salman Khan fandom really is omnipresent), provide some comic relief in this otherwise moody, bleak movie.
While the first half is devoted to the civil unrest in Kashmir, the second half stays fairly close to the source play. Basharat Peer’s single biggest achievement is weaving the Kashmir conflict with the family tragedy of Hamlet. The first half is thus a searing view of the violence in the Valley, spattered with the blood of the innocent, and the second half is where the film really comes into its own. The trio of Kapoor, Tabu and Menon, give it their all, as the film reaches its explosive climax. Stray observation: in the beginning of the film, Tabu’s character speaking to her schoolchildren about what makes a home, referring subtly to the film’s theme of broken homes. But for all its merits, Haider falters with its meandering pace, the distinct restlessness felt by viewers (in a way, the film takes an hour to reach the first scene of the play), the disjointed screenplay, and the obligatory love-song right when things are about to get interesting. Vishal Dadlani’s brilliant version of ‘Aao Na’ is also unfortunately featured only in the trailer, not the film.
But these are minor complaints, when you’re witnessing a master like Bharadwaj in action. So if you want to be rewarded with a fine moviegoing experience, Haider is a compelling watch that must not be missed!