Vishal Bhardwaj has a penchant for adopting Shakespearean plays and setting them against the Indian social milieu. He has already directed ‘Maqbool’ which is an adaptation of Macbeth and ‘Omkara’ – a hinterland take on Othello. This time, he not only took the plunge to direct one of the most complicated and ambiguous Shakespearean texts, Hamlet, but also showed that he knows how to churn out the best out of Shakespearean drama. He, along with his co-writer Bashrat Peer, a Kashmiri journalist, transplants the play to the chilly, militarized Kashmir. They set it against a socio-political tragedy that has been hovering over the place for last six decades. Haider, which is a story of a conflicted, misguided young man who was trying to avenge his father’s death is also an unshrinking look at the socio-political history of Kashmir.
Haider (played by Shahid Kapoor), a young student returns from Aligarh to Kashmir only to find out that his father (played by Narendra Jha), who was a doctor has been incarcerated by the Army for harbouring militants and ever since disappeared. His mother, Ghazala (played by Tabu) has moved into his uncle’s place . Haider discovered that it was his uncle (played by Kay Kay Menon) who has always coveted his mother, is behind a conspiracy that resulted in his father’s arrest.
Vishal Bhardwaj walks tightrope between the political unrest of Kashmir and the murderous, explosive family dynamics. The political backdrop never overwhelms the family drama but rather supplement it. PURA KASHMIR KAYEDKHANA HAI … a character remarks and the film goes beyond the Bollywood’s usual Pakistan bashing and tried to tear off the logic behind the deployment of armed forces and their special power in Kashmir.
The director’s ability to narrate an age old story in a new, unseen manner while staying faithful to its original structure is unquestionable. He not only sets the story against the backdrop of 90’s Kashmir but adds colour, texture and context to them. Pankaj Kumar’s outstanding cinematography refuses to portray Kashmir’s picturesque vista and rather explores the narrow dingy lanes, ramshackle houses, snow that turns red with the blood. The hand held sequence in the Srinagar town square also deserves a mention. The revengeful, disturbed soul has been outlined by the haunting colours with which the valley has been painted. Bhardwaj meticulously constructs some Shakespearean moments with cinematic devices. When Haider returns to his uncles house for the first time, he sees through the scrim of gauze an intimate, playful moment between his mother and the uncle. A person whose face was covered with a balaclava, sits inside the car and decides the fate of the civilians as they parade in front of him. The choreography of the song Bismil and the monologue of Haider definitely deserve a mention. Even Bhardwaj doesn’t eschew from showing the subtle sexual overtones in the mother son relationship.
The film provides a twist with the appearance of Irfaan Khan in the second half as the hero and villain changes with the narrator. Irfaan, playing the militant Roohdaar not only justifies the role of a mysterious character but comes out with one of his finest performances. Kay Kay Menon sinks his teeth into the role of an advocate with conniving looks who covets his brother’s wife. Shahid Kapoor looks a bit unsettling in the very beginning but Vishal Bhardwaj brings the best out of him. But it was Tabu, the mother who towers above all and steals much of the film. She is a traumatized soul in search of peace and normalcy, even if it is provided by the person who destroyed. More than her looks, her look stands out in this film, she pulls off the complex role with ease. She remains in our memory long after the film is over. And even the small characters played by Ashish Vidyarthi and Kulbhushan Kharbanda impress the audience as much as the main characters do.
Though, in between, it looks a bit stretched and the flow of the narrative is once disrupted by a soft romantic number ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ which was a bit out of place. Haider, above all, is an uncompromising , courageous attempt with an intense, traumatic and empathy evoking narrative.
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