है या है नही? (Haider 2014)


Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, released last week, is the third in his series of Shakespeare adaptations.  Building on his earlier films, Maqbool (2003) and Omkara (2006), Haider is the darkest of the trilogy, demonstrating a more confident stylistic approach supported by strong structure, characterisation and cinematography.  Bhardwaj’s characters are more consistent, more plausible, and more human, than Shakespeare’s (both on the page and in the theatre).  The relationships between nation and household are tighter, and new dimensions to the story are opened up.  The use of locations is tight enough that the script could run as a play, while at the same time the landscape – cold, unforgiving and stunningly beautiful – adds a whole extra dimension to the action.  Haider is played powerfully by Shahid Kapoor, who radically transforms as events unfold.  Hamlet’s clowning madness seems pays reference to Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet Clown Prince and also mirrors the films role as engaged art.  With Haider as clown in chief, the minor clowns in the film are more subdued, the fact that they are bollywood fanatics is a statement that is hard to miss, as is the contrast between the moments of lurid 90s popular films and music and the cold, harsh landscape of Kashmir.  Their implied relationship seems unnecessary (the ‘Friendship’ cap surely a Dostana reference?), particularly when combined with the quasi-biblical way they leave the film, but I guess it could charitably be read as a comment on the confines and limits of their situation.  Overall, Haider’s combination of Hindi film touches (e.g. the gravediggers, the dance number, the cameo) while reworking it with more serious film-making can lead to a powerful work that while bleak, moving and thought-provoking remains intensely watchable.