A HAUNTING AND INCREDIBLE VERSION OF SHAKESPHERE’S HAMLET
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj Produced by: Vishal Bharadwaj & Siddharth Roy Kapoor Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, Shraddha Kapoor Music by: Vishal Bharadwaj IPM Rating: *** 1/2
At first, I was a little apprehensive to watch this film because Indian critics also rated Finding Fanny highly, yet I simply hated it. I thought Finding Fanny was an overrated, pseudo-intellectual movie with no substance at all (imagine an old man navigating around to find his teenage sweet heart, whom he still imagines as a young, desperate woman waiting for him after decades!). It’s boring, crass, foul-mouthed movie about irritating people, in all honesty!
So why in my right mind would and should I watch Haider and not Bang Bang which promises to be a more fun movie? Three reasons mainly: Shakespeare, Tabu and Vishal Bharadwaj. I like all three of them, definitely more than Hrithik and Katrina.
Needless to say, I was not disap- pointed at all!
If Shakespeare were to watch Haider, he would be extremely proud of the 2014 adaptation of his Hamlet. Considered as the most intriguing and complex plays Shakespear has ever written, Hamlet leaves readers with many unanswered questions. Its adaptation Haider, how- ever, does gets many of them answered yet in an equally intriguing manner.
Director Bharadwaj and Basharat Peer (a Kashmiri journalist) pens an ethe- real web of a story, that is as captivating as it is disturbing, placed in the picturesque yet politically turbulent Kashmir of 1995. With a line up of fabulous actors such as Tabu, Irrfan Khan (in a special ap- pearance), Shahid Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon and even Shraddha Kapoor, in the hands of master who can paint a movie to picture perfection, one can only expect emotions, suspense and drama stretched to an excruciatingly raw end.
This movie is not for all. If you like easy-going light entertainment, skip this one. But if you are for a gripping, emotionally ripping and politically provocative movie, this is the one for you. It is another side of the controversial coin that you don’t often read about in the main- stream media.
The opening scene draws in your curiosity and envelops you within its intrigue: a doctor in a trouble-filled 1995 Kashmir is trying to save a terrorist from an appendicitus. He brings him home, risking the lives and security of his family. The army soon gets news of it. In a chilling and horrifying rounding up, a masked army official from his jeep decides to make the doctor “disappear” within the blink of an eye. The doctor (well-selected actor Narendra Jha) is taken away and his house razed. His wife Gazala (Tabu), now “half-widowed” (as wives of disappearing husbands are referred to), moves to her brother-in-law, Khurram’s house (Kay Kay Menon).
Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns to Srinagar from college where he is studying poetry. Watching his mother and uncle in a playful, intimate dance and song scene, he seethes with rage and begin suspecting them for the disappearance of his father.
Seeking solace in the arms of his childhood sweetheart Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor), who is a journalist in Kashmir, Haider, torn between his love for his mother and need for his revenge, be- comes more and more unstable. He re- sorts to constant paranoia and introspection: to do or not to do.
Into this confusion enters the mysterious Roohdhar (Irrfan Khan), standing in for the ghost from the original Shake spearian Hamlet, with a crucial message from Haider’s father. Haider now deter- mined to seek vengeance, pursues his mission through several venues.
Shahid excels in his portrayal of Haider: from a naive, compassionate son who deeply respects his father’s work and poetry and admires his mother’s love and beauty, to a half-insane man with a vengeful, bloodthirsty anger and, ultimately, to a constantly paranoia-ridden man is simply breath-taking. He is a pleasure to watch. I never liked Shahid very much, but this performance is a rev- elation. Extraordinary.
Kay Kay as the slimy Claudius acts vile, ambitious, and greedy. His skills are powerful. You can actually see so much of an insidous nature in his eyes. Narendra Jha as Haider’s father is a remarkable find by Vishal Bharadwaj. His tall, inspiring, soft-spoken, life-giving, and poetic role is extremely vulnerable and endearing. Haider loves him blindly.
Yet, it is Tabu’s role as Gazala (Gertrude) that envelops you and sucks you into the depths of the plot. Her misery and lurking anger toward her husband who is constantly placing their family in danger (it is often said that be- hind every great man is a suffering woman and family), her all-consuming love for her son, her jaana, as she calls him lovingly, her preoccupation with beauty, and her restlessness for tr dangerousue love is extremely potent. Her scenes with Shahid, slightly laced with oedipal impulses, are intense, complex, and drenched in love. They are amazing to watch. On the surface it is hard to comprehend why Haider, his father, and Khurram all have such a deep devotion to Gazala. But as in original Hamlet, the qualities that save her from condemnation along with Khurram are subtly woven into the movie. She loves Haider, and, underneath her shallow exterior, shows great emotion when he confronts her. Gazala truly does not know what she has done to make Haider so furious, and it is only when he tells her that she understands her actions to be wrong.
Amidst all this madness, Shraddha (as Ophelia) brings in a light of hope and freshness as a sweet girl torn between her love for her father and boyfriend. She looks and acts like a pure Kashmiri girl. Her “Lov-ed” dialogue with Shahid in Kashmiri accent brings a smile to your face, though not very convincing.
Reeling in some dark humor are Salman and Salman (who act in the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two bumbling courtiers)two undercover in- formers. They run a video store and are crazy fans of Salman Khan. Their portrayal elicit a smile. In the end, when they are being bashed up by Haider, it made me feel that Bharadwaj is taking his revenge and showering his hatred on all the beefed-up non-acting heroes in Hindi cinema. All Salman Khan fans, forgive my imagination.
All these emotions being placed in the terror-filled Kashmir of 1995 is a master stroke by Bharadwaj. Common people suffer, as the army in those times is seeped with deception and doubt. Thus, the town and all its people go slightly crazy with the prominence of violence, interrogations and torture cells. Both inno- cents and terrorists are treated as equals.
My Favorite Scenes:
Shahid’s entry into Srinagar as a suspect due to his origin of Islamabad (another name for Anantnag).
A masked army man sitting in a jeep deciding the fate of common man with the mere gesture of his eyes.
Any scene with Irrfan Khan
The flirtatious dance and song be- tween Tabu and KayKay Menon watched by Shahid from behind a curtain
The finale scene between Tabu and Shahid.
A man released from a torture cell refusing to enter into his own home with- out being searched first out of habit. His visage haunts you.
The play within the play - the Bis- mil Song (stupendous).
The song by the Graveyard diggers singing around the graves, Aao Na
Last but not least, the usage of Chutzpah (funny, tricky, sarcastic and thought- provoking) and AFSPA
Overall, with cinematographer Pankaj Kumar, who earlier shot the amazing Ship Of Theseus, lyricist Gulzar and a stunning cast, Bharadwaj successfully paints a canvas that is breathtakingly beautiful, tragic, disturbing and delirious. This Kashmir is not about the song and dance scenes you see in mainstream Indian movies. This Kashmir is about beauty mixed with blood, about Jhelum and dead bodies, about love and loss, about human beings who are simultaneously both devils and angels.
Don't miss this movie. It is a tad slow in the second half, but you still won’t want to move from your chair!