Vishal Bhardwaj, through his third installment of the Shakespeare trilogy, ‘Haider’ i.e. Hamlet sets his story in a Kashmir far different from what we have grown up watching in films. The valleys are wounded. The snow bleeds. The chinar have shed their green cloaks. The kahwas have lost their steam.
As the film progresses you realize that the chalets turn to debris in a blink of the eye. The ‘crackdowns’ swallow innocents in the darkness of non-existence. The ‘Kashmir Ki Kalis’ have lost their dimples in the ripples of bloodied Dal Lake. The wind of grim runs amok the abandoned homes that whisper long-forgotten stories of yore.
The ambience is set to perfection. The characters defined to the hilt. Shahid Kapur as ‘Haider’, returns to his homeland after completing his education in rebellious poets of the British Empire and is received by Arshia (Ably played by Shraddha Kapoor). The film is about Haider’s search for his lost father, a victim of army’s crackdown, who was killed by his uncle, KK Menon’s character, Khurram with Ghazala (Tabu) as his partner in crime.
Haider dwells in a world of deceit and confusion, where he suspects whether to believe ‘Roohdaar’ played by the Irrfan Khan (Brilliant, as usual) or the version narrated by his uncle and mother. Hence, to intaqaam or not – that is the question – and there’s precisely where the film, just like its lead character, drowns in the quagmire of confusion.
The Bard had a smart way of portraying Hamlet as a confused soul who confronts his father’s ghost and is hence deemed as mad. Here, Vishal Bhardwaj chooses to make Haider go bald (The reason is never explained, maybe he wanted to look cool or something) after he comes to know about his father’s death and its cause. He stands in the middle of a town square and delivers a diatribe akin to some school play, which is thankfully brought to a halt by KK Menon’s character.
No, the ‘madness’ doesn’t end there. He goes on to strut around his home as a ‘murga’ (The English word cock might change the meaning) and keeps muttering Intaqaam Intaqaam all the time, which sounds silly because he never manages to even slap his chacha. You can’t help thinking of nose-flaring Dharmendra who’d have sworn on dogs and taken the bloody revenge. You rooted for his characters, no matter how bad those films were, but with Haider, you can never think of doing so.
To take the Neha Dhupia’s like ‘Only sex and Shahrukh sell’, let’s add one more ‘S’ here i.e. Shakespeare. So since Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare, our desi ‘Bard’hwaj makes Haider indulge in tomfoolery all through the second half, do a murga dance, I mean ‘Bismil’ dance, which really stands out, thanks to Gulzar, who narrates the story in a flow akin to river Jhelum.
The other gem one cannot miss is the citizens getting so used to getting checked before entering a corridor that they cannot step inside their own home until checked like security guards and military officers. The sad part is, such gems are too less to be found.
The audience keeps waiting for the ‘Intaqaam’ moment to happen, which never does. To begin with, Haider’s father, Dr. Hilaal Meer (Played by this terrific actor Narendra Jha, who has an uncanny resemblance to Vijay Anand, elder brother of Dev Anand) is someone who believes in humanity (‘Main zindagi ki taraf hoon, he says in a crucial scene of the film).
The single word ‘zindagi’ sums up his entire character. He isn’t someone who would wish his son to avenge his death, at least the way his character shapes up in the film doesn’t portray him so. To add fuel to the fire, he is shown humming the Faiz Ahmed Faiz ghazal, ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’, and certainly not something to the effect of ‘Teri kehke loonga’ (Chill, I know that was exaggeration). Furthermore, the messenger played by Irrfan Khan convinces him that his chacha is the villain, so what was all the fuss about? Where was the confusion, sir?
Instead of devising a strategy to set Khurram chacha up, our Haider prances around like a madman and suddenly gets into the ‘Intaqaam’ mode. The pace of the film can give snail some serious completion. The mother-son scenes are stuff pure snooze-fests are made of, which refuses to leave the screen even when you’re waiting for the lead character to get done with this ‘intaqaam’ business once and for all.
On top of it, the film is on the verge of climax, and you have old grave-diggers singing ‘Aao na Arey aao na, ke jaan gayi, jahaan gaya, so jaao (Were they indicating something to the audience?) and not to stop at that, they actually lie inside the grave while they’re at it. Dark humour- you’d say, isn’t it? Intellectual self-pleasure is the word.
Well, liking this film means you aren’t being true to your ‘hidden yawns’ inside the auditorium, and not liking Haider means you don’t belong the ‘intellectual’ section of the society who yearn for meaningful cinema.
Haider, in all its ‘intellectual glory’ and snail-se-bhi slow pace, loses its sheen and digs its own grave, quite literally. You end up as confused as Shahid’s character, wondering whether to like Haider or not. Forget it folks, aao na, ke paise gaye, time gaya, so jaao…Chutzpah ho gaya yaar!