William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ has been deemed as having a story that is open to endless adaptations. It is also one of the most tragic plays the Bard ever penned down. In the capable hands of Vishal Bhardwaj, the story comes alive once again in the form of Haider. The director takes the basic premise of Hamlet and gives it his own signature touch to connect with the Indian audiences. Most movie-goers won’t really care for what Shakespeare originally wrote. Hence, it is safe to say that Bhardwaj is in the clear for playing this one closer to home.
In 1995 Kashmir, a young man named Haider (Shahid Kapoor) comes home to see that everything he cared for has been destroyed. His father was taken by the army, and his mother (Tabu) has found comfort in the arms of his uncle (Kay Kay Menon). Distraught, Haider slowly descends into madness after learning that his father was killed in captivity. While this may be the outline of the movie, the bigger picture encompasses much more. It sheds light on the chilling disappearances of innocents that Kashmir has witnessed since the mid ’90s.
Haider, as a film, takes time to set in. And once it does, it makes you care for the characters. The good thing here is that every character has dual personalities. A trait reminiscent of Shakespeare himself. It might be a revenge saga wrapped in a political crime drama, but it rides solely on the shoulders of its seasoned cast. Haider also has ample references to the original plot. From singing grave-diggers to an almost-incestuous relationship, this is an ode from one master storyteller to another.
The main cast includes the likes of Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan and Ashish Vidyarthi. Each of these actors is phenomenal in his/her respective role. You have to see them to believe that they are beyond critique when it comes to acting. The biggest surprise here has to be the eponymous portrayal by Shahid Kapoor. The actor is stupendous as Haider and might have just given the best performance of his career. Now only if he stopped acting in movies like R… Rajkumar.
Is Haider better than Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello)? Yes and No. Yes, because it is much bigger in scope as compared to the other two. No, because it tries to fit in too much and feels drawn out. Sub-plots such as the budding love story between the leads feel contrived. Mostly because Shraddha Kapoor is yet to learn a lot about emoting. She is given a chance here to do something legendary, but she falls short by a long margin. Also, at times, you will hear the characters saying the word ‘curfew’ three times in a sentence as if we don’t already know they are in Kashmir. But on the whole, the movie hits all the right notes and gives you goosebumps on several occasions.
Why should you watch this film?
To watch or not to watch? That is the question.
Haider is packed with memorable scenes and an underlying message, which stays with you long after you have left the cinema hall. The director treats the topic of political unrest in Kashmir nicely, and tries not to take sides. Yet the movie is not overtly sentimental and delves into the psyche of the characters and the effect the war has on them. This movie has a few minor pitfalls here and there, but otherwise it is a wonderful effort by Bhardwaj, and deserves to be watched.