Isn’t this an amazing time to be watching Indian movies? I could not help but exult in this feeling when the credits began to roll up the screen and Rekha Bhardwaj’s voice filled up the hall. Yes, Haider it was. Another one of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearen inspirations it may be, but full credit to the master for a film that not only preserves the integrity of the Bard’s original story – Hamlet, it also exploits the Kashmir conflict to its own advantage.
Don’t be surprised if chutzpah becomes a by-word for that special Indian trait of so disingenuously presenting situations to their own advantage; a trait that Mr. Bhardwaj has so very INgenuously portrayed as to make me wonder at the marvelous way in which the story and the backdrop interact with and fulfill each other.
This is, in fact the peculiar talent and beauty of this man’s works. Take a look at Maqbool, Omkara, and now Haider. The man visualizes his work in its entirety – the backdrop complements the story and serves to take it forward, the story bolsters performances which in turn help actualize it, the score and cinematography doing their own special magic as to enhance all other elements.
The result is that you build multiple perspectives: the protagonist’s as well as the antagonist’s (for stark lines between good and bad, right and wrong cannot be found when talking about real life and Bhardwaj’s films and therefore, villains are reduced to the ridiculous). You see both sides of the story, there’s the protagonist’s heady victory and disheartening denouement, there’s the antagonist’s triumphant justification and pitiful lack of touch. The beauty of the narrative is that at times you don’t know who is right, who might be right, and whom you’d want to be right.
By now Hansal Mehta’s letter to V.B. and Haider Hussain Beg’s piece on the movie have discussed the length and breadth of their experience and I would not like to let drop any of the gems in this movie. You must see it for yourself. The aim here is to express what an experience the movie has been for me.
As for the story, of course you cannot go wrong with Shakespeare, provided you are Vishal Bhardwaj : The man takes a gem of world literature, adapts it and makes it his own with an amazingly real script and treatment. Philosophical anecdotes are delivered with pedantic virtuosity. Fantasy dances around with the morbid. There is a sacrilegious edge to sanctity, there is piety infused with cowardice. The magic begins where the script courts superb cinematography and attention to details.
And this is where the valley of Kashmir comes in, lending an unimaginable depth to the story. On one hand there’s this land with a history of bloody conflict serving as a backdrop to a story and on the other there is this story of a conflict within a family – two brothers, one love, a lot of mistrust, feelings of betrayal, self-righteousness, ideology, and above all, identity. After watching Haider, you are moved to ask, “if not Kashmir, then where?”
And all the same, the story serves to throw a new light on the situation in Kashmir – in a way never before attempted or experienced. It is a beauty only those who have set their foot on this land can appreciate. That such bloody conflict, such an atmosphere of distrust and death, such political profligacy are to be found enveloped in such scenic, historic, natural, and cultural beauty is an ode to absurdity. And then an afterthought – where else but Kashmir! Yet again.
And so it is with the actors. One word for Shahid. Virtuoso. Also the last word. His Lal Chowk performance will have plaudits raining for a long time to come. Shraddha is refreshingly and surprisingly genuine. At the risk of calling Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan (I hope I have deferred to his numerological preferences for checking the spelling I have not the energy for right now) typecasted, they certainly deliver. Tabu is never better than when staring straight into the camera – head covered in the modesty of a pistachio green dupatta, eyes masked by large, dark shades but never more candid than in this character-defining moment – demanding, unapologetic, and yet, pleading. Kulbhushan Kharbanda mouths off some great lines, the two Salmans and the duplicity in their characters is a stroke of genius as are their performances of the same. The accents are spot on. In all, it’s a package deal called perfection.
The background score is fantastic, keeps you on the edge. Songs are great in terms of music and composition; lyrics by Gulzar – enough said. There is the song and dance, it is all about love and death, and they totally belong.