The Prince of Denmark in Kashmir

Of love and loss Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in Haider  

Two years ago to the day, the world erupted with joy celebrating 450 years of entertainment courtesy our favourite media mogul. You know the man who launched a 1,000 movies, books, plays, ads, websites, graphic novels, games, actors, writers — William Shakespeare.

The Globe Theatre embarked on an ambitious project on April 23, 2014. The Globe to Globe Hamlet took Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy on a two-year tour to perform in 205 countries around the world culminating with a performance at the Globe Theatre on April 23, 2016 marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Globe to Globe Hamlet was performed at Bengaluru’s Ranga Shankara last October. With 12 actors, including Nigerian Ladi Emeruwa playing Hamlet, the play at two hours and 40 minutes moved at a rapid pace. The iconic lines and scenes were all there. The elegance of iambic pentameter cascading down the stage reiterated the beauty of the Bard. If Hamlet felt like a rather self obsessed young man that worked too, as isn’t ironic narcissism the default setting of the modern age?

October 2014 also saw the release of the third of Vishal Bharadwaj’s movies inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedies, Haider. To say the movie is inspired by Hamlet would not convey the splendour and subtlety of the adaptation. There are the obvious similarities — Haider for Hamlet or Pervez for Polonius and Liyaqat for Laertes. Or the energetic, angsty ‘Bismil’ being the Mouse trap. There is even a grave digger song, Haider meditating on life and death with a skull and the famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy as ‘Main rahoon ki main nahin.’

Set in the insurgency-torn Kashmir of 1995, the film tells the story of an idealistic youngster Haider, who returns home from Aligarh Muslim University (not Wittenberg), to find his father missing and his mother, Ghazala, consorting with his uncle, Khurram, a lawyer with political ambitions.

Haider makes two major departures from Shakespeare — both dealing with the women in Hamlet/Haider’s life. By choosing to combine Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio and love Ophelia in Arshia and making her a journalist playing an active role in Haider’s life, Bharadwaj has made her a woman of substance. Eschewing the Nunnery scene however, detracted from the poignancy of Arshia’s suicide even while the unravelling red wool presented a powerful symbol of things falling apart.

The other change, the more radical one, is looking at the tragedy from Ghazala/Gertrude’s eyes. The Shakespearean Gertrude always seemed rather vapid. Ghazala on the other hand (played by a luminescent Tabu) is a conflicted character. She respects her husband, is attracted to Khurram and worries about her son. She wants to do the right thing by her family. She tells Khurram about her husband operating on a militant not knowing that he is an informer. It is the wrong deed for the right reasons and results in a chain of events that ends in blood and tears. Finally, it is Ghazala who convinces Haider about the futility of revenge.

Two characters that Hamlet junkies (like yours truly) would relish and enjoy are the Salmans and Roohdaar. Calling Haider’s childhood buddies Salmans recalls the interchangeable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The extraordinary conversation Haider has with them where he elaborates on chutzpah is deliciously wicked. Haider’s ruthless slaying of the two when he realises they have betrayed him reveals how far gone he is.

Roohdaar, played with extraordinary stillness and strength by Irrfan Khan (with the most amazing guitar riff for theme) is a play on the ghost. Rooh means soul or spirit in Urdu.

He is the one who tells Haider that his uncle, Khurram, betrayed his father. But like Hamlet’s ghost, Haider doesn’t know if Roohdaar is telling the truth or trying to brainwash him into becoming an outlaw.

Haider, like the best of Shakespeare, is this perfect package — a complex thriller, a tender love story, a historical document backed by amazing cinematography, music acting and writing. Watching any of the many adaptations of Hamlet or reading the loaded lines confirms that increase of appetite grows by what it is fed on.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 9:53:33 PM |

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