Sunday, 19 October 2014

Haider : Vishal's Chutzpah

It was a much awaited movie for me as I  had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of  Maqbool and Omkara and thus was quite excited about Vishal Bharadwaj's yet another Shakespeare to Bharadwaj adaptation. Vishal's  adoption of the Shakespearean themes and the amazing amalgamation of the settings in the Indian backdrop has never ceased to amaze me. So I went to watch Haider with an expectation. The story is much known, so my inquisition was about how it was re-sized with Kashmir issue.

Shahid as Hamlet
Sir Lawrence Olivier as Hamlet


The director actually faced a big challenge and as all Vishal Bharadwaj's followers know, he likes challenges. So he tackled them one by one. First it was the story line and then the politically troubled backdrop. Hamlet was penned by Shakespeare based on the legend of Amleth ,as recounted in XIIth century Danish history with the plot beginning the King being murdered by his younger brother for the elder brother's  wife and the throne, and ends in the new king being killed by the elder brother's son with the help of his mother who had married the younger brother after being widowed . A love-hate-betrayal story against the backdrop of 1160 Denmark. This story was recorded around the end of 12th Century by historian Sarco Grammaticus a clerk to Absalon the fearsome warrior-bishop who had expanded the Danish empire in the Baltic and had founded Copenhagen. Absalon's main political goal was to free Denmark from entanglement with Holy Roman Empire. So we begin with the similarities. But is this a story about Kashmir or a personal tragedy of a leader of a clan? Is Haider really the leader of a clan?
Grave digger's scene in Hamlet

                                              Grave digger's song in Haider

Thematic challenge in direction:
Here we can call it Vishal Bharadwaj's 'chutzpah' as he tries to spin the theme of Kashmir in 1995, as close to the ground reality as possible. He doesn't seek sympathy but just brazenly relates the incidents of human indignity with an honesty that leaves us shaken. The sudden approaches, nightly army searches, missing person's lists and Haider's search for his father ,is all interwoven into  the tragedy of a state, being  integrated with theme of pain and vendetta. With this as the background ,we realize how very easy it is to influence and malign the hearts of the people ,taking full advantage of the personal tragedy that each one suffers. It is a state which is after all utterly affected by turmoil.
 VB portrays that with a vividness that leaves us to wonder what lies behind all the hatred, tortures searches protests plotting killings massacres and the politics. Is it only a political question of belonging or over the years the issue has been diluted with there own people working out of self interest just like Haider's Chacha Khurram and many others.

 The best statement in the movie is maybe uttered by Haider when he acts as a madman and speaks to a small crowd in a crossroad symbolizing his own personal crossroad of "Hum hain ki nahin". To be or not to be that has always been the question in Kashmir even when they have been faced with terrifying choices. Us par ya is par is not really the important question here ,where minds are always mislead by the impression that grass is really greener on the other side. It is the question of what is important - The land or the people. 
Haider speaks to a crowd 'Hum hain ki nahin'
Haider is first and foremost a personal tragedy which is craftily portrayed by the director to bring around the tragedy of a state just as Amleth was to Denmark. The story won hands down and so did the editing and cinematography
The major portion of the movie was shot in curious shades of white blue black and grey giving a flip to the dark theme of the story. This movie is not a docu-feature on Kashmir, so if anyone expects the wondrous scenic beauty and the beatific mountains to be there, they would be disappointed. The use of the color red and burgundy is unique. Red shawl worn by Ghazala or Mohji, red muffler woven by Arshia which she gifts to her father, later this same muffler is used by her father to tie Haider's hands, black and red in the song Bismil, dried burgundy mehendi in Mohji's hand which looked like dried blood, all this successfully enhances the theme of love expectation & betrayal in challenging times and how it shapes man's lives.


 Trusts are broken for petty personal gains, loyalty is questioned and so is honor and identity. The scars that it leaves behind, spoils human capability of forming trust again and ability to express viewpoints fearlessly to simplfy relations. It enhances a fear psychosis and is compounded by inabilities which shrouds personal lives. The movie is a statement of this personal tragedy.
Another directorial excellence lay in the creation of the character of Rooh Daar - the soul, played by Irfan Khan. The justice rendered to the theme of Hamlet's father's ghost in the  play Hamlet. What a terrific creation. The gravedigger's scene with a seductive invitation to death-' arey aaona so jaona ' too was aptly dealt with in the complicated theme of Haider a.k.a Hamlet in the story. Death is mocked at and is accepted as fate ,thereby challenging Islamic belief and faith as death being ultimate truth and destiny.

Kudos to the composer and the director Vishal Bharadwaj for the beautifully befitting use of music in the movie. His own voice did justice to the songs which mainly played as background score and was situation based. The song 'Bismi'l has powerful lyrics and is well sung and choreographed well enough to keep the audience glued to the screen. The only regret is that, the beautiful penultimate song sung by Rekha Bharadwaj is used as the background score for the credit roll out ,when almost everyone leaves the hall. I and few others however stayed back to listen and was duly impressed.
                                                     Bismil - The video version.

The movie would have worked as well without the director's disclaimer that it was adapted from Hamlet. Then we wouldn't have looked for the similarities and dissimilarities and come up with 'what could have been' as VB did an exceptionally good job in the thematic integration of Hamlet with Haider accept for one vital disconnect.
Hamlet's father was a warrior king who would have abject belief in the word 'revenge' but Haider's father Dr.Hilal Meer was a doctor who helped anyone who was ill even if they were hardcore militants. He was a soul who was shown to be dedicated to the cause of the ailing, so for a person of his psyche the word 'revenge' would have very little meaning and that too for a personal reason like avenging your own brother, seemed unrealistic. The persona did not match with the deliverance. 
A doctor, a singer,a loving father, a benevolent heart and a sympathizer for those who seek freedom, is expected to seek revenge maybe for a national cause but for a personal cause he simply would not have the heart to incite his much loved son to the point of  murdering his own brother. He also mentions that Haider would need to curve out those eyes of his own uncle which had cast evil looks on his wife and Haider's mother.This seemed somewhat unrealistic and disconnected from the character.

Vishal's credit:

He dared where others won't. To speak in such clear terms about Kashmir and with such issues being related to the present day scenario indeed took some guts. He ran the risk of angering both Hindus and Muslims. He actually had the courage to take up the theme of Oedipus complex which haunts Hamlet and is integrated into the character of Haider.

This is indeed an uphill task and a statement against the emotionally illogical religious misinterpretations. He also puts declarative dialogues in Haider's role about Kashmir and the many unanswered questions. He actually dared to show a fragment of the atrocities and also dared to change the end of the story, where he leaves it to the imagination of the audience by not killing Haider or his uncle. That they will die is again left to the question of whether to 'be and not to be' dead.

Shahid as Haider, Tabu as Ghazala Meer, Kay Kay Menon- Khurram Meer, Narendra Jha- Dr.Hilal Meer, Irfan - Rooh Daar, Lalit Parimoo as Pervez Lone -  all excelled in retaining the thread of interest throughout the movie and requires special mention and credit. Shraddha however (least mentioned the better) needs to learn more.

Yes, absolutely a must see. Do not compare with his other creations, do not be critically literature conscious and I am sure you will  be definitely drawn into the dark and thought provoking theme of Haider. A movie worth remembering.

( I tried to keep this article free from many personal interactions with my Kashmiri friends as this is a review and not a ground to exhibit my political opinion. I hope I succeeded in that)


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