And, he strikes a hat-trick. After skillfully capturing the agony, conflicts and human complexities that transcended through William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’, filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj flaunts his master stroke with the deeply agonizing and complex tragedy ‘Hamlet’.
He lends ‘Haider’ his rustic strokes, and creates a world so sinfully complex, deconstructing ‘Hamlet’ against a broken Kashmir of the 1990s.To a time when Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan appeared the only uplifting factor in a state crushed by the Indo-Pak border war.
Vishal’s genius lies in how he alters the story and characters, without ever diluting the Shakespearean essence.
Irrfan Khan becomes Roohdaar, the face of his father’s “soul” that incites Haider to take revenge for his murder. Dressed in shades of white, and sporting a limp and a bruised eye, Rooh appears as the voice of his father’s aching soul, constantly reminding Haidar the brutal sentence he must reserve for his conniving uncle.
His magic also lies in how he doesn’t reduce Kashmir into a mere exquisite backdrop to colour his frames but lets it tell its own story. Making ‘Haider’ his most ambitious movie, yet.
Set in 1995, ‘Haider’ unfolds a story of betrayal and vengeance.
Haider is a student of poetry, who returns to a broken home. He finds his father missing and catches his ‘half-widowed’ mother Ghazala sharing a strangely intimate moment with his uncle Khurram.
His only anchor lies in Arshee, who despite objections from her demanding brother and father remains loyal to Haider.
As Haider fights his own demons and insecurities, and struggles to unearth the truth that left him fatherless, we watch Kashmir erupt into a conflict fuelled wickedly for political mileage.
“Chutzpah” is what melancholically describes Haider. An ill-fated life his mother oddly predicted, and hoped to correct by sending him away from the volatile mountains.
“A boy killed his parents and sought mercy with the justification that he’s orphaned. And, that’s what is Chutzpah,” Haider explains to his pals and Salman-Khan-clones also named Salmans. The mood suddenly elevates into an unnerving crescendo as we hear a shattered Haider equate chutzpah to the political games that unfold in the valley.
Haider’s vengeance is hindered by his confused affection for his mother. “You used to hate it when your father touched me,” she tells him of his innocent past, to which he retorts, “Now, my uncle will touch you. How must I react now?”
‘Haider’ thrusts you with such dark revelations, leaving Haider exposed of his wounded mind and complicated desires.
Shahid Kapoor surrenders to Haider passionately and lends immense sincerity to Shakespeare’s most complicated characters. It is, undoubtedly, his career’s finest. His luminous eyes depicts his agony at one moment, and glee at another. At another, you sense his eerie, volatile mind erupting despite his locked gaze.
“To be or not to be,” voices his perplexed Haider, encapsulating how the politics of power and love leaves him torn and shattered. It’s the scene where a crowd cheers his insanity, as he grins and entertains without a care in the world, that’s the most arresting.
Tabu steps in with another evocative performance, and the moments of discord and resolution she shares with Shahid are some of the finest, and most unsettling. She’s remarkable as the demanding Ghazala, who naively “triggers” a bloody domestic scuffle because of her fluctuating heart. It’s when she is unable to contain what she set fire to, you feel her heart breaking.
Kay Kay Menon steps in with yet another spectacular act as the political charged Khurram, who exposes only a weak spot for his “darling” sister-in-law”. Despite his alleged dishonour, we can’t help but develop a sense of empathy towards his wrecked soul.
Irrfan Khan flexes his acting brilliance, despite being given a role not lengthy.
Shraddha Kapoor lends ample charm to ‘Haider’ and remains faultless and docile.
At a little over 160-minutes of screen time, ‘Haider’ does appear a little over indulgent, but considering Vishal had such a Herculean task at hand, it’s just a small price to pay for good cinema.