Haider, the movie is the unlikeliest of places where you could imagine the titular hero explain the meaning of chutzpah. But then trust Vishal Bhardwaj to boldly pull all the stops in the last installment of his trilogy based on Shakespeare’s plays. You do hope the trilogy turns into quadrilogy and beyond. Vishal’s latest power packed film Haider is based on Hamlet which is Shakespeare’s longest play and probably the most powerful, influential and popular in English Literature.
For someone who has not read Hamlet, the film starts on a promising but unhappy premise: a son comes back home to beautiful and dispirited Kashmir to look for his father who has disappeared. You love the relationship between father and son that kindles over poetry sessions. The film is set in 1995 when Kashmir was on a boil and people suspected of militant links allegedly disappeared.
In the role of lifetime, Shahid Kapoor brilliantly plays Haider, who walks in on his mother crooning and his uncle dancing. And thus begins the dark, melancholic, psychotic ride into the unfathomable human relationships where nothing is what it seems. To get the truth out from these murky relationships will destroy lives. The search for his father turns into a brooding and violent tale of revenge.
The film works on different levels. For the first time in Hindi Cinema, we get a deeper view of a beautiful state wracked by violence. This is no longer the state where songs are filmed while hero and heroine throw snow balls at each other. This is the paradise on earth that has kalashnikovs and identification parades. People do not step into the thresholds of their own houses until they are patted down - an exquisite scene where the co-writer makes an appearance. But among the snow covered cold and dark hills are evenings warmed with kahwa and wool thread embroidered bed covers harking back to small pleasures and lost times. Covering everything under a grey shroud are the complex relationships of the revengeful son, sometime grieving sometime enigmatic half widow of a mother, equally baffling politician uncle, loving and supportive love interest and her family.
To add to this, a ghost appears midway in the film, wrenches the film around, turning a confused Haider into a mad man thirsting for revenge. The ghost informs Haider that his father wants him to shoot his uncle in the eyes to avenge his murder. The stage is set to inexorably lead the world surrounding the characters down an explosive abyss.
Hindi Cinema today is in a great phase to be blessed with actors who sear up the screen and in Haider the casting could not have been better where all characters outdo their past performances.
Shahid is back in his Kaminey element as he turns from a college student into a ranting madman bent on revenge while fighting his ghosts. His soliloquy at a road crossing where a bald and manic Shahid rants and reads out the AFSPA in front of hundreds of people will alone fetch him the National Award this year. His psychotic act in the maddening milieu almost looks normal.
Shraddha Kapoor looks ethereal and does a good job. Her last scene is haunting as she unknits a stole she made for her father. Kay Kay Menon as the uncle who gets Haider’s father detained gets behind the skin of the character and makes it look all so effortless. Irrfan Khan as the Ghost kicks the story into a frenzy. With low key dialogues, his eyes and face smolder the screen. Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Haider’s grandfather has some incisive dialogues. Narendra Jha as the sensitive and loving Haider’s father ought to be seen more often. When fathers are often derided on the screen, the father son relationship is beautifully captured.
But its Tabu’s performance that will stay with you for a long time. Playing the complex role of Haider’s mother where one moment she exudes sensuality and in other she turns mysterious. One moment she is vulnerable and the other she is inscrutable. Not just Haider even you are left confused whether to love or hate this woman.
Everything is super about the film. The lilting cinematography; the violin and santoor laced background score; the music - listen to the ‘Bismil’ number and you will be reminded of ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ song from another revenge drama ‘Karz’. The screenplay with the sledgehammer honesty could have only come from someone who lived through the nineties in Kashmir. Vishal has partnered with Basharrat Peer for the screenplay that fills you with unease for its seemingly reality.
You have to doff your hat to Vishal Bhardwaj for bringing another unbelievably beautiful and grand adaptation of the Bard that looks so believable as if it was originally set in Kashmir.
Haider is a brilliant and brave film made by Vishal Bhardwaj that soars triumphantly with chutzpah just as morals and human relationships plumb the depths of despair confounding normal human beings. And therefore to deal with this rotten world the question is: to be or not to be. Now only if chutzpah did not rhyme with AFSPA.