Kashmir’s Hamlet

In haider, Vishal Bhardwaj magically weaves the Shakespearean narrative into the troubled valley’s landscape

By Ramesh Menon

Vishal Bhardwaj rarely disappoints. Look at how he dealt with complex Shakespearean plots in Maqbool and Omkara. With Haider, he shows what a celluloid craftsman can do within the confines and limitations of Bollywood. When you hear ranting, fanatic voices from the growing Hindutva brigade demanding that the screening of Haider, an adaption of Hamlet, be stopped, you see what I mean. They do not understand fiction or poetry for that matter, and so, they can be forgiven.

Along with celebrated writer Basharat Peer whose first novel, Curfewed Nights, which dealt with Kashmir, became a bestseller, Bhardwaj transforms scriptwriting to a different level. The dialogues are loaded. That Basharat is from Kashmir helped bring reality to the gruesome violence, midnight raids, simmering anger and guerilla justice in the story. The film does not let you relax even after it is over. The helplessness of the characters hau-nts you. The truth is not easy to fathom; there are many shades of black, grey and white. The characters struggle in a timeless tragedy that seems to have no end.

Set in the Kashmir of 1995 when mili-tancy and terror ravaged the countryside, the film forces you to think of the continuing tragedy of broken lives and dreams of what was once Paradise. Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns home to discover that his father was spirited away by the army for treating injured militants as he felt that saving lives was his job as a doctor. He later learns how he was tortured and killed.


Meanwhile, Ghazala (Tabu), his widowed mother, has moved in with his scheming and over-ambitious uncle (Kay Kay Menon) and on an unannounced visit home, Haider finds they are a cosy twosome. This is enough to tear Haider into emotional shreds as he deeply loves his mother. The film subtly underlines the Oedipus complex playing out silently and devastatingly. The ache is deep. His only aim is to avenge his father’s death which was plotted by the scheming uncle to marry his mother…. But he has Arshia (Shradda Kapoor) to fall back on, who soaks his pain and occasionally, lets him smile. If Shahid’s real mother hugged him, saying that this was his best film, she has a point. It probably is his best till now. Bhardwaj chose Kashmir as his stage as he knew it was the story he wanted to tell. In a recent interview to The Indian Express, he said: “Kashmir is the Hamlet of my film.” It was the political turmoil and tragedy that took him there. No wonder the human conflict plays out in such haunting detail. Years of living in a war-like situation has made many of the victims numb to the senseless violence.

Bhardwaj once saw his wife crying while reading Curfewed Nights. When he read the book, he knew he had to make Haider. This is how Basharat became his co-writer. He ack-nowledges that the film would not have been the way it is, had it not been for Basharat. Breathtaking cinematography by Pankaj Kumar, riveting script, soulful music and stellar performances help Haider soar. It is only towards the end that Bhardwaj slips on a typical Bollywood floor. He must have thought of recovering the `57 crore the film cost to make. It is just not like him to be stereotyped.

Watch it. You will have some disturbing questions for which answers are equally disturbing.


HAIDER Direction: Vishal Bhardwaj Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, Shraddha Kapoor