Haider review: Mesmerizing!
Haider review: Mesmerizing!
By: Sonia Chopra
Critic's Rating: 17/5
Thursday 2 October 2014
Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan
Broadly, there are usually three types of viewers when it comes to a Vishal Bhardwaj film. The first that nonchalantly says they don't understand anything about his films and don't care to. The second that follows and reveres his work. The third that enjoys his films in bits, eager to sample cinema that feeds the mind and soul, even it means being challenged, instead of "leaving the brains at home". And for the latter two groups, this film is recommended.
Haider completes Bhardwaj's Shakespearean trilogy that began with Maqbool and Omkara. Whether or not you've read Hamlet, Shakespeare's longest and one of his most searing tragedies, won't matter with this film. Bhardwaj's adaptation is set in '90s strife-torn Kashmir and the central protagonist is a poetry student Haider (Shahid Kapoor).
He arrives from Aligarh to Kashmir to a burnt-down home, a missing father, and his uncle wooing his mother. Haider's father has disappeared like thousands others in the state. Insistent on finding his father, Haider laments - Poora Kashmir kaid khana hai. Har jagah dhoondunga. (The entire Kashmir is jail. I'll look everywhere.)
In his quest he tries filing an FIR, searches dead bodies strewn casually in trucks, looks in camps. We witness a heart-rending situation where people are randomly picked up for interrogation and submitted to excessive torture, even murdered. Tragically, they remain disappeared to their family members who can never get closure on what happened to their loved ones. The women remain "half-widows", the children wonder if they're orphans.
It's the biggest dichotomy ever. The darkness of curfew-ed Kashmir is a stark contrast to the beauty everywhere - the flowers, shikaaras and lakes, the people, their artful homes, their elegant language and so on. It's like a sullied flower... this place.
Which is why, perhaps, the dialogue brings in exquisite poetry in the bleakest of scenes. Or as a character sums up the situation in Kashmir succinctly ? 'When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets crushed.'
Indeed, Kashmir, which is a character in its own right, extracts more emotions than the protagonists themselves. And in this bleak atmosphere, where a student is so terrified of the state, he can't enter his own home unless someone checks his ID, our characters arrive.
Haider, who is now saddled with the burden of revenge. His mother Ghazala (Tabu) who thinks nothing of putting a bullet on her head to emotionally blackmail her son, his uncle who is unabashedly in love with his bhabhijaan. A girl who thinks she can sweet-talk her father into agreeing with her choice of lover, and the father who turns out to be the bigger manipulator. Twin brothers, both named Salman, obsessed with Main Pyaar Kiya down to the 'Friend' cap.
In the end, the film explores the concepts of revenge and freedom and the tragedies their quest brings. In one of the film's most lilting, profound and important dialogues a character exhorts to a revenge-thirsty person ? 'Unless you are free from revenge, no freedom can free you completely.' (The words are incomparable when translated.)
Bhardwaj folds in a lot of rawness into the film. He doesn't sweeten the proceedings to make it more palatable for the viewer. So you have people murdered and the body count rising, the queasy collaboration between the armed forces and local politicians, people tortured. Then there is the subtler audacity in terms of relationships, as it explores Ghazala's unabashed affection for her good-looking and successful brother-in-law, and the film hinting at an Oedipal Complex.
Which is why, the undercooked romance between Haider and his journalist girlfriend (Shraddha Kapoor) including an incongruously added song in the second half, remains the film's weakest link. Plus the film deviates completely from the original story's ending to give you a garishly melodramatic one.
But these are small grouses in an otherwise grand film that'll have you thinking back to it often.
Shahid Kapoor is brilliant as Haider, let down by a slight inconsistency in the performance. Shraddha does well as the bright-eyed girl in love, caught in crossfire. The scene-stealer here are the veterans ? Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan. The film is worth a repeat viewing just for them, especially the luminous Tabu, playing the contrastingly layered Ghazala.
Kashmir has been captured in all its glory with a shroud of despair almost palpable. The background score fills you with trepidation the moment Haider crosses over to Kashmir. Bhardwaj brings in mischief with the graveyard sequence, where the song incorporates shovel sounds.
Bhardwaj and co-writer Basharat Peer (who authored the book Curfewed Night based on the Kashmir conflict) give us a film that leaves you in its spell long after. And if you can overlook certain blemishes, you'll be happy to be mesmerized!
Rating: 3.5 stars