It takes some amount of guts, ambition and skill to ride two wild horses — at the same time. And Vishal Bhardwaj is in glorious form as he churns out the best of his Shakespeare trilogy, an adaptation of Hamlet … which is also an unflinching look at the recent political history of Kashmir that bred many Haiders thirsting for revenge against the brothers of their fathers based on a ghost version of history. A story so audacious that Mother India crosses the Line of Control, not just metaphorically.
While the political repercussions of juxtaposing the Kashmir situation with Hamlet can be argued endlessly, especially in the context of the depiction of the Indian army, there is no denying that mass graves of disappeared people were indeed found. It is a proven and uncomfortable part of Kashmir’s history where a few people with power gave an entire force a bad name. But the Kashmir issue is not just about who did what but about the why: Revenge. Misguided youth baying for blood goaded on by manipulative politicians.
Haider then is the story of a flawed, misguided, conflicted man, not a hero . Shahid Kapoor is a revelation as a man with a wounded soul and existential crisis torn between his love for Arshia, his Ophelia (even Shraddha Kapoor is thoroughly convincing) and his hate for her father. He represents Kashmiri youth (whose homes were destroyed during a painfully turbulent phase in recent history) haunted by the past and coping with the newly formed alliance at home.
Haider’s old home was destroyed thanks to the war between militants and the army. His father (Narendra Jha is quite the find of the film) was a casualty of a misunderstanding, representative of a generation that literally disappeared because of doubt — when the State could not take a chance or tell who was a militant and who wasn’t.
The mother (Tabu representing Mother India shines in one of the strongest roles ever written for women in modern cinematic history) is trying to move on and trying to embrace normalcy, even if this sense of security is given by the people responsible for the destruction of her family (Kay Kay Menon, as the uncle with designs on the mother, pulls off an equally complex role with ease).
What happens when the boy is given a gun to get his revenge?
This is a murderous and explosive family dynamic — a ticking time-bomb and Haider is all about the tension that goes down to the wire with the timeless question that echoes all through the narrative.
Vishal Bhardwaj crafts this nervous tension in pale white Kashmir, lets it simmer all through the first half, soaking you in the environment slowly and indulgently till the dramatic entry of the ghost (Irrfan Khan in simply one of the finest roles he has ever got) and then stokes the flames, sexes it up with a rocking score, loaded lyrics, colourful choreography and brilliantly staged monologues — all as interesting interpretations of scenes from the source material. The second half is when the politics of Kashmir impregnates Hamlet . Shahid’s long monologue and the choreography of ‘Bismil’ are two of the best moments in Hindi cinema of recent times. Will he or won’t he take the revenge he has been craving for?
Haider is about one man’s journey from the ruins of his home to the refuge of a graveyard and his ultimate choice. Vishal bookends his film with these two homes: A home that gets blasted into a graveyard and the second a graveyard that shows him the way home. It doesn’t get more lyrical than this in Hindi cinema.
Lyricist Gulzar, writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj, and writer Basharat Peer have given us an instant classic, a literary epic (the screenplay is out in the stores too) with a lesson to learn from recent history. Haider is an incredibly brave uncompromising film made with loads of conviction with blatant disregard to market conventions, one that will make you cheer during the meta-moment in the film when Salman Khan fans get their skulls crushed.
Get your minds blown. Forget your phone, forget your watch. Brush up on your Shakespeare or at least Wiki it. And you will find Haider to be a truly rewarding cinematic experience.