Sharddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in a scene from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Ode to Kashmir, Haider
Does Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Haider’ belong to Kashmir or does Kashmir belong to ‘Haider?’ Whatever be the case, the story and the state have been beautifully interwoven into a complex, other-wordly experience. The undeniable, captivating beauty of Kashmir, along with its underlying despair, grime and desolation has been hauntingly captured by the filmmaker, in a tribute to its people
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]nspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Haider’ is Vishal Bharadwaj’s trilogy salute to the Bard. Haider (Shahid Kapur) a poet, returns to his hometown Srinagar to find his father Dr Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) has been arrested by the Army for harbouring a known terrorist. He is further disturbed to find his mother Ghazala (Tabu) now cootchie-cooing with his father’s younger brother Khurram (KayKay Menon.) Haider’s erratic behaviour and depression lead to a fruitless search for his father in all the jails and camps, abetted by his fiancée, journalist Arshi (Shraddha Kapoor.) Once it is known that Hilal is dead, Ghazala and Khurram go ahead and get married.
Through Arshi, Haider is contacted by Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) who tells him his dead father was betrayed by none other than Ghazala and Khurram. Roohdar further tells Haider that Hilal’s last wish was that his son should shoot Khurram in both eyes – the eyes that entrapped his wife Ghazala and forced her to betray him.
Ghazala herself was to be left to God’s justice. Battling with conflicting emotions, deep melancholy and faced with various shades of the truth, Haider goes to shoot Khurram but finds him in prayer and thus desists, telling him that: “duaa mein maroonga toh tujhe jannat naseeb hogi.”
Haider now decides to join Roohdar and his militant colleagues. In an act of self-defense, Haider shoots Arshi’s father, police inspector Parvez Lone (Lalit Parimoo) and runs away. Arshi commits suicide and her brother brings her body for burial to the same graveyard Haider is hiding at. The grief-stricken brother attacks him, whereupon Haider kills him, on the heels of which army reinforcements turn up, summoned by Khurram.
In an absolutely gripping climax at the graveyard, a raging shoot-out ensues, fought by Haider and three old men, and Army snipers. There was pin-drop silence in the audience as the stark scenes unfolded. Deep red blood on the fresh, white snow – the contrast was chilling. Meanwhile, Ghazala who had contacted Roohdar, turns up ostensibly to ask her son to surrender, knowing full well he will not. Mother and son have a tearful meeting and she then blows herself up as a suicide bomber, leaving the end open to speculation – did she do so in order to save Haider’s life, or did she do so because of her guilt?
Shraddha Kapoor has well underplayed her role. Irrfan is a powerhouse of talent; one wishes he had a meatier role. KayKay performed superbly. Narendra Jha and Lalit Parimoo turned in commendable performances. Shahid Kapoor has given a very contained and controlled performance. His “To go or not to go” version of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy was well-done, although the one on the traffic roundabout was a bit over-the-top.
Even though Bharadwaj has gone on record to state that he kept the Oedipus complex between Hamlet (Haider) and his mother Gertrude (Ghazala) subtle, both his actors have managed to emote the same effortlessly and are a perfect foil to each other. Shahid Kapoor has made Haider into a flesh-and-blood man of complex emotions, torn between his passion and anger toward his mother and his immense love for his father on the other hand. Equal kudos to Tabu, older-looking but who delights as ever, as she sways between her attraction to Khurram and her deep attachment to Haider, her “jaana” (life.)
Does ‘Haider’ belong to Kashmir or does Kashmir belong to ‘Haider?’ Whatever be the case, the story and the state have been beautifully interwoven into a complex, other-wordly experience. The undeniable, captivating beauty of Kashmir, along with its underlying despair, grime and desolation has been hauntingly captured by Pankaj Kumar. Dolly Ahluwalia can also take a bow for the realistic costumes. Bharadwaj and fellow writer Basharat Peer have deftly woven the main theme and cast of characters in Hamlet within the political/ military backdrop of Kashmir and the story of dramatic emotions. The dialogues are equally riveting and well within context, e.g. “jahaan na din pe pehre hain na raat pe taale.”
In my opinion, no review can do complete justice to ‘Haider.’ Bharadwaj has pulled off a cinematic triumph. Having said that, one wishes that editing (Aarif Sheikh) had been crisper, to make this story more compelling. The songs too were superfluous for the main; unlike ‘Omkara’ the songs in ‘Haider’ don’t do much for the story. Although ‘Bismil’ is supposed to be a take-off on the wandering minstrels scene from the original ‘Hamlet’ it detracts from what hitherto had been a gripping tale.
The rolling credits commend the Army for its role in Kashmir. This makes one kind of sit up and ponder…while the Army risks the lives of its men in Kashmir and the likes of passionate filmmakers such as Vishal Bharadwaj attempt to bring out the pathos and hopelessness of the land, what of the Kashmiri Pandits themselves, who fled with no backward glance? Safely ensconced in mega cities like Delhi or Mumbai, they feed off the fat of the land that is India, all the while bemoaning their fate and speaking ill of the mother country (India) that has sustained them…how many of them give back toward the rehabilitation and betterment of Kashmir? It was no slip of the tongue for Bharadwaj to name his army commandant as Brigadier Murthy; while men from all over India are drafted into the army and are now based in Kashmir fighting a mess not of their making, how many Kashmiris in recent years have joined the Armed Forces?!
To ponder or not to ponder – that is the question!