Haider is a 2014 crime drama directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, written by Basharat Peer and Vishal Bharadwaj and stars Tabu, Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Narendra Jha and Kay Kay Menon. The film is an adaptation of good ol’ Billy Shake’s Hamlet set in the tumultuous land of Kashmir.
People familiar with the work of Vishal Bharadwaj might know of his two previous and highly acclaimed adaptations of Shakespeare’s works in Omkara (Othello) and Maqbool (Macbeth). Haider might not scale those lofty heights but works as an intense piece of commentary about the plight of Kashmir as a state and slowly trickles the intensity and hopelessness onto its characters.
What caught my eye more than the performances, look, detailing and the music was the deft uncompromising look at the delightfully fantastic but unforgiving state of Kashmir in the mid-90s. I had a vague amount of understanding about the tense, almost war-like situation plaguing the state of Kashmir during my childhood. As I grew up and grew to relate with the gravity of the situation, I asked myself about how I felt about the whole ordeal one too many times.
Even though I hate to make this review political, I have to contend with the fact that I will never understand what it feels like to live in a part of the world which exists in constant fear or terror attacks and has to watch tanks and armored military vehicles go by. I am not smart or politically astute enough pass judgment about the matter but what I can say is that this film comes so close to showing the essence of such a world.
The music/songs in the film complement the backdrop with perfect harmony. From singing about the Jhelum river and all that it sees to the morbidly hilarious song with 3 old men and a young boy digging graves in the snow, every bit of melody is deliberately put in the film to convey the overarching theme of the film which somehow expands on one of Shakespeare’s most enduring works. But, this, in turn, brings me to my biggest gripe with the film overall.
The film is handicapped by the weight of its ambition. This film is long and I really do mean long. It slows itself down severely during the first act as it goes about establishing its main characters. Apart from an admittedly horrifying scene involving Haider’s father, the film has little to offer in terms of excitement. This slowly but surely trickles down into other sections of the film as there are moments, no matter how brief, of consummate boredom and lethargy. The rollicking good time a Vishal Bharadwaj joint usually produces is substituted by deliberate storytelling and that leads to a few flat scenes and a lot of lost potential.
The cast of characters is perfect. Shahid Kapoor works brilliantly as the sullen son and as the deranged looney. His best work comes with, maybe the best filmmaker he has worked with. Kay Kay Menon is infallible as always. Shraddha Kapoor is tolerable, amazingly. Irrfan Khan shoots a syringe of adrenaline into the film with his introduction (keep an ear open for his incredible theme music). My favorite from this band of morally gray misfits has to be Tabu’s Ghazala. If there was one actress who could convince me of being able to incite an Oedipus Complex, it was going to be her. The subtlety in portraying such a morally ambiguous character deserves praise and I will rightfully shower her with it. I would dare not say much else because it is a performance that deserves one’s undivided attention.
Haider might not be the best from the Vishal Bharadwaj catalog but it is a worthy effort that demands one’s attention. His manic intensity is lopped off, but for a few sequences, and it took a chunk of my investment away from it. That being said, I’d rewatch it as a research piece on how to dole out social commentary while being impartial to all sides involved.