In Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kashmir’s trials are mirrored in its eponymous hero’s ruin and rude realisation of betrayal from the ones he perceived his own. A retelling so clever, so bewitchingly clever, a further validation of Bhardwaj’s deep-rooted understanding of the Bard that gets more and more intimate with every passing Shakespeare he tackles. After testing his mettle in the dark guilt of Maqbool (Macbeth) and honing it further in the regrettable impulses of Omkara (Othello), Bhardwaj not only recreates Hamlet but also takes the liberty to rewrite it such a bold move but such a darn beautiful one. Bhardwaj plays with Hamlet’s structure and timeline to inspiring results and so before it becomes a full drawn saga of indecisive avenging of a father by his son against his uncle and mother, Haider familiarises the viewer, with generous help from co-writer Basharat Peer, to the hostile, early 1990s atmosphere of the snow-covered paradise (captured to delight in Pankaj Kumar’s sweeping frames). For those constantly living on the edge, madness seems like a foregone conclusion if not a much-needed escape, Haider plays on it shrewdly. Even when its delicately crafted walnut wood carved décor, crewel-embroidery namdas and drapes colour the screen with prettiness that belies its reality, so potent is the film’s distrustful vibe, even a warm gesture to embrace seems like an unfriendly move to frisk.
Only this is Vishal Bhardwaj and his signature whimsy and insolence, which acts as both an attitude and pun, is highlighted in Haider’s light-hearted departures where Salman Khan is the only glimmer of cheer in this war-torn hell. Haider’s first fifty minutes are like a prologue allowing us to form an opinion but isn’t quite neutral where its politics is concerned. But if you agree to Haider as a poignant account instead of a comprehensive study, the somewhat one-sided picture may not offend. Haider’s deliberations are essential and, eventually, rewarding because it sensibly concerns itself beyond its titular man. Some of the most classic scenes (and verse) from the play are faithfully reproduced but Bhardwaj’s true calibre shines in his reinventions that lend Haider an ideology and individuality that is entirely its own. Its visual narrative is just as significant, like how Haider’s prelude to wild behaviour finds an eye-catching metaphor by way of gray langur in the backdrop. Whether it is intentional or not, I do not know. If not, what a breathtaking coincidence. Though never taking precedence over the spoken word, sound –as melody, as design, as background bears a thoughtful presence in Bhardwaj’s film. Its stirring songs by Gulzar and Faiz and a background score dominated by violins and sirens require a certain experience with sorrow if not the sensitivity to understand or appreciate. Bhardwaj is an actor’s dream. And the cast, so many wonderful actors even in five-second roles, realise this opportunity in different ways. I liked the benign tempered Narendra Jha as Haider’s wronged father and Kay Kay Menon’s composed rendition of the corrupt but not completely deplorable uncle. I enjoyed the three elderly gravediggers as well as (Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat) and a certain carrier of a plot twist I will not mention.
I found radiant Shraddha Kapoor’s depiction of fair Ophelia a confused mix of gullibility and guts. Her ill pronounced English spoiled two good scenes. I was impressed by the crescendo of Shahid Kapoor’s performance. He doesn’t talk often but his eyes do. Sometimes pale like a ghost, sometimes burning with hysteria and insanity; sometimes tender with moist tears that is recipient of gentle kisses from the women he loves. The lattermost is a subtly explored territory in Haider. He’s absolutely electrifying in the scene where he goes all out to pronounce his madness. His work as Haider is a challenge well met, a film to be proud of. His younger avatar, played by Anshuman Malhotra, is quite a find as well. But the one I am going to bow to is Tabu . A world is said without uttering as much as a word. She plays us through her slightly puffy eyes and enigmatic, cold smile. Occasionally, the veil of steely composure slips and her insecurities come through.Shraddha Kapoor has a very bright future as star in Bollywood. She added warmth and beauty to this amazing tale. Kashmir looked breathtaking in every shot! If you enjoyed Maqbool and Omkara – HAIDER will impress you. Haider doesn’t have an ounce of the commercial thrills and spills that entertain the 100-crore masses. But it does have an undeniable dramatic punch. It is one of the best stories you’ll every watch on celluloid. Give this edgy film a chance to entertain you. Because it will do so with finesse because of its deep darkness . It’s certainly better than the other films which requires no intellect out there. It is always great when Bollywood movies are unique , original and different. A deserving 9/10 from us.