Haider And His Problems
Three and half stars
Vishal Bhardwaj takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride. Slow with anticipation in parts and dizzyingly wild in others, but never, never disappointing.
Of course you have read TSE on Hamlet, that is why you smiled when you read the title of this review.
Of course you are familiar with the play because you participated in the elocution contest in school and recited, ‘To be or not to be...’ without faltering…
I am sure Vishal Bhardwaj knew that Hamlet was not going to be easy. It Happened One Night is easy. Pride & Prejudice is easy. Hamlet and his walk in the graveyard howling into the evil despairing night is more Wuthering Heights, a lot more passion and besharmi in relationships, a lot more hunger and junoon in the loving.
The trouble with Haider, is that we begin to identify with his ‘hum hain ki nahi hain’ instead of seeing why the setting of madness is flawed. We begin to justify his revenge, but don’t realise that the motive is more from what he feels about his mother than revenge for his father. Yes, VB tells us from the rooftops, ‘Intequaam!’ and many times.
But if you quell your instincts to do a jig because Shahid Kapur is actually amazing, then you begin to see everything that is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Everyone from the men in the army to the gentle old kahva quaffing gravediggers is wrong. As the bard says, everything is. ‘The calamity of so long life;/ For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/ The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,/ The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,/ The insolence of office and the spurns / That patient merit of the unworthy takes,’...
Some of you will also be mislead by the ghost - Roohdaar swathed in rich creamy wool walking around with illogically James Bondish background music - goading Haider into madness. Some of you will find yet another reason to hate Irrfan Khan’s ‘look-at-me-I’m-acting-here’ theatrical gestures, and miss the soot covered snow and torture centers with innocuous names, the significance and historical echoes in the singling out of men and boys in crackdowns that can make your heart jump out into your hand by a single surprising honk of the jeep horn.
Yes, as TSE observed, there are many flaws in the setting up of the revenge story in the original play which makes the movie very challenging to watch. The devotion that Haider feels for his father is not justified. There seems to be no magic there, but the little Haider kissing his mother’s neck… Now there’s an image that could give ‘devotion’ a new meaning. That’s why the image of a grown up Haider walking under the Chinaars with his mother does not seem wrong at all. (Die you Joy Mukerjee love songs shot in Kashmir, die!) Such a rollercoaster ride this is. Tiring but full-of-anticipation these flat patches of elaborate set-ups in the movie (full marks for attention to details) are. But when the set up comes together, what glorious jump off a cliff. You will notice how the movie quietly belongs to Gazala, who can pull a gun out of her firan and compel her son to go to Aligarh, make her father in law uncomfortable after getting her brother-in-law to admit that there are no women worth marriage because she, Gazala is married to his brother. It is Gazala, of whom the Bard himself said, ‘God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.’ It is Gazala who looks up at the heavens in a final bid to play god with the lives of the two men in her life who run towards her as everyone else flees from her. Gazala is the pivot and Tabu is magnificent here.
Shahid degenerating rapidly into madness is how the bard planned it, but it seems very melodramatic here. But then Vishal Bhardwaj redeems himself with scenes between mother and son. As audience who knows that ‘This is the very ecstasy of love, whose violent property ordoes itself and leads the will to desperate undertakings.’
If I have been obtuse in praise of Haider, it is because I am happily torn by images of death and snow shovels and the haunting tune of ‘bevajah gulmohur jhoom raha tha’...
P.S. And for those who wish to acquaint themselves to Hamlet, here is the original sequence of events in 20 lines (inspired by student guidebooks):
1. Hamlet shows up during an official ceremony where Claudius, the new King, is dealing with court business. Claudius and Gertrude try to convince Hamlet not to be so gloomy. Fathers die all the time. 2. Hamlet wishes he could commit suicide because his mother's remarriage has made the whole world seem corrupted. 3. Horatio tells Hamlet his father's ghost has been spotted walking on the castle battlements. 4. Hamlet’s father's ghost tells him that his brother murdered him in order to steal his wife and his crown. Hamlet vows revenge, and swears the men to secrecy about seeing the ghost. 5. Hamlet mocks Polonius at every opportunity. He perks up when his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up, but soon realizes they are corrupt too. 6. Actors show up! Hamlet in a soliloquy reminds himself that he hasn't done anything about his father's murder. He decides to use the actors to stage a play of his father's murder so he can see Claudius's reaction. 7. Hamlet returns to the theme of suicide: "To be or not to be, that is the question." 8. Hamlet runs into Ophelia, whom he hasn't seen for a long time. He tells her he once loved her, then tells her he never loved her. 9. When the court comes in to see the play, Hamlet sits by Ophelia, talks about the faithlessness of women. 10. Claudius is upset with the play, Hamlet defiant. 11. Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that they are in the wrong. 12. Hamlet stumbles across Claudius praying and repenting. He almost kills him right there, but then decides that Claudius needs to go to Hell when he dies, so he'd better wait for a moment for him to commit sin, rather than murdering him while he's praying. 13. Hamlet confronts Gertrude about her sinful marriage to Claudius and accidentally stabs and kills Polonius. 14. Claudius forces Hamlet to tell him where Polonius's body is, then sends Hamlet away to England. 15. Hamlet sees Fortinbras's army marching off to war and is inspired to stop delaying and to carry out his revenge. 16. Hamlet walks through the palace graveyard and gets all depressed again about how people die —like Yorick, a court jester he loved, but who died when he was a child. 17. When the court comes to the graveyard to bury Ophelia, Hamlet and Laertes fight over who loved her more. 18. Hamlet tells Horatio everything: Claudius had tried to have him killed, he replaced his own name with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's names on the death warrant, and then escaped. 19. Laertes challenges Hamlet to swordfight. Hamlet has a bad feeling about it, but accepts. 20. Hamlet kills Laertes and finally stabs and poisons Claudius, then dies himself of the poisoned wound Laertes gave him. Hamlet asks Horatio to tell his story and suggests that Fortinbras become the next King of Denmark, a job, at this point, that no sane person would want.