Thursday, October 2, 2014

Transcending Shakespeare

Film: Haider
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that time is relative; contrary to the common understanding that time follows a strict linear path – the one we confine it to for the sake of functionality on a day to day basis. But after Maqbool, Omkara and now Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj has proved that he collaborated with this one guy called William Shakespeare, who was born roughly half a millennium before him.

Haider is unrelenting - not the character, the film. Its honesty and courage are only surpassed by its aesthetics. It leaves you dumbfounded with its treatment, overwhelmed by its subject and makes you fall in love, with a story you have loved since the first time you heard it, all over again. It is brave, flambuoyant and intricate, just like its director.

Much has been spoken about Bhardwaj’s karmic connection with Gulzar with every single time they work together. But when it comes to the people he works frequently with, Shakespeare is a close second. With Maqbool which was an adaptation of Macbeth, Omkara which was based on Othello and now Haider based on Hamlet, the director’s appreciation of human history’s most inspiring literary works is absolutely fascinating. Like his previous two adaptations, Haider, which completes the trilogy, too, showcases Bhardwaj’s ability to take Shakespeare’s idiom and internalize it in a setting so rooted that the line between the text and the film becomes imaginary.

Which gets us to Kashmir, where the film is set beginning it’s tale in the year 1995. Haider, a university student returns home from Aligarh after his father has disappeared after being framed for working with militants. On his return, he finds that his mother is too close to his uncle for his liking. He decides to search for his missing father along with many disgruntled Kashmiris, who are looking in vain too. He then finds out that his father has been murdered and pledges vengeance. Well, you know how it goes.

However, where Bhardwaj triumphs, is in presenting an agonizing saga of the lives of many who existed for many Indians only in news bites. The film touches upon the political dynamics, gives a holistic view on the role of armed forces in the region, enlightens you with the causal need for and the horrific consequences of AFSPA 1958 (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), provides various perspectives on the Kashmiri people’s perception of nationhood, freedom, oppression and it does so while, on the surface, playing out a Shakespearean tragedy.

Kashmir’s contribution to Haider is not limited to its socio-political unrest, but it also provides as an excellent setting. The damp, wet winter and the dead-white snow painted with blood tells the story of how things have gone wrong in what was once referred to as the heaven on earth. At the same time, the same setting provides a cool, cozy hideout for Haider and his lover Arshia and show that there is still warmth in the cold wreckage and a little hope in the heart.

It is often said that literature constitutes a large part of cinematic story-telling and contributes a lot to cinema. However, Haider’s dialogues and lyrics are so meaningfully crafted and precisely executed that they could be a great piece of literature by themselves. Gulzar’s “Aao Na”, Vishal Bhardwaj’s “dil ki gar sunoon to hai dimaag ki to hai nahi jaan loon ke jaan doon main rahoon ke main nahi” (on Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be”) and Faiz’ “Gulon mein rang bhare” (which you can hear playing on a transistor in the voice of Mehdi Hassan) make you feel immense gratitude towards your ancestors who thought language would be a good idea.

Amidst this intense drama, Bhardwaj reserves his moments to, in some way, leave a director’s watermark on the film. Right from a subtle reference like Khurram (Haider’s uncle) saying “370 saal se guzaarish kar rahe hain…” to Ghazala (Haider’s mother) to (there couldn’t be a better way to explain this) trolling Salman Khan, he throws punches at you which hit you only if you are in its path.

Of the many departments of the film that deserve individual standing ovations, casting is one. From the extras of little significance to the protagonist, Haider is one of the few Hindi films that get it flawlessly right. Tabu has given one of her finest performances as Ghazala, portraying her with immense vulnerability. Kay Kay Menon as Khurram is tenacious and comes close to having the same effect as his character in Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal. Shraddha Kapoor’s Arshia exceeds expectations with her heavy emphasis on some English words, but beyond that, she fails to make the most of a golden opportunity.

Shahid Kapoor, on the other hand, is not the Shahid Kapoor we have seen for a decade or more now. He slides into his character and gets comfortable over the first half of the film and as the second half warms up, he takes center-stage and owns it. His disturbed tirade at a square in the city, his description of ‘Chutzpah’ (a word, if you have not heard before, that will change your perspective on things a little) and his “mai rahoon ke mai nahi” monologue are examples of how you get it right. His dialogues, postures, gestures will leave you with some unforgettable images.

In its entirety, Haider has crossed many a boundaries to become something big and powerful. It is bigger than the characters’ tragedy, it is bigger than the condition in Kashmir, and if you can fathom it, it takes Hamlet’s central theme of vengeance and goes beyond it. Haider humbly transcends Shakespeare and stands before us as a cultural mammoth that will be remembered for many years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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