When Shakespeare is the base and Vishal Bhardwaj the director and storyteller, you get to see masterpieces like Maqbool, Omkara and now, Haider. Haider is the last of the Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean trilogy and the director has just taken the tempo of his style of storytelling forward.
For the starters, you ought to have some patience while you watch a Shakespeare adaptation. It is slow at start, and carries on till 60% of the time. Here, it just builds up the story. The characters and their traits are evolving and you can’t predict who would do what or pronounce judgements. It peaks in the middle of second half and end, and culminates with tragedy of hero’s fall or redemption.
When you hear Hamlet, you remember, “To be, or not to be/ That is the question” from a soliloquy where the hero struggles to choose between death and suicide. The play moves around that theme and so does its adaptation.
Haider is set in Kashmir valley during the late 90s when democracy was trying to make headway and militancy rooting for Azadi. In a heavy militarised area, when the army exploits people in the name of AFSPA, Haider’s father, a doctor operates a militant commander at his house. But he is exposed and army takes him away. Haider is in Aligarh and returns to valley after the news. The search for the father takes him to a militant leader played by Irfan who tells him how his uncle, Kay Kay Menon conspired with his mother to kill his father. His uncle tells him a different story. How he discovers and avenges his father’s murder makes the rest of the story.
The story subtly tries to put across the point of atrocities of army as well as the state police. But it just touches it, as that’s just the subtext.
One thing which stands out in this film, apart from performances, is the music. The background score as well as songs are beautifully worded and sung. The music complements the story and helps the plot. Special mention must be made of ‘Bismil’ song where the choreography is almost like a small skit and Shahid lives to it. If I had to spend all the ticket money for this song itself, I would just do that. This song, penned by Gulzar, summarises the story so far and Shahid’s theatrical dance. Other songs of note are ‘Jhelum’, ‘Aao na’ and ‘Akhil kabhi’.
The performances by all the actors, from Shahid to Shraddha, Kay Kay to Tabu and Irfan, are outstanding individually as well as in the scenes they are pitted against each other. Shahid wouldn’t be able to top this performance any time soon. His fans, however, would be delighted if he can do it. From every single shot he is in, to the solo performances at the Chowk performing a mono act about Azaadi, to the intimate scene with Shraddha where he weighs death and suicide, the dance sequence, mother-son interactions and other sequences, he stands out.
Shraddha complements him. She has acted good with whatever part she had. Irrfan is, well, Irrfan and takes the screen wherever he is in. Kay Kay and Tabu have lived to their parts with brilliance.
Cinematography is artistic. And artistic is not a mere word. The frames speak for themselves. The white, snowy setting adds to the aesthetics and scenes appear better. Be it ‘Bismil’ song, graveyard scene at the end, Shahid’s visit to the burnt house, as well as the songs, they look beautiful even with lot of blood and fire.
Characters evolve slowly and the viewer lives through what the protagonist is going through. The disbelief, despair and struggle to decide for what’s right and what’s wrong adds to the complexity. As the film nears its end, at least thrice, you would think ‘it should end now’ but it doesn’t. The end is slow and it doesn’t end till Haider avenges his father’s murder in the graveyard. And that’s the place where he overcomes his inner struggle and does away with the idea of revenge as his mother’s last words convinced him to do so.
Overall, the film is engaging. It scores on all departments of filmmaking. Music and performances stand out as do direction and cinematography. It is a must watch for film lovers, especially for Shahid fans. Watch it in a theatre with better sound system to allow the film to get on to you.