Haider: The irresolvable conflict of Hamlet

So what is it with Vishal Bhardwaj and William Shakespeare? The stalwart of literature would probably blush at the knowledge of Bhardwaj’s obsession with his work, as it has seldom known a filmmaker so rapaciously follow it. There is no cringing about the fact that Shakespeare’s work gets re-traced time and again, because for most literary critics the man proportioned literature to suit a Shakespeare-an form owing to his unimaginable genius. Apart from quoting him in daily life, we write in his image, attempting to match the depth of character nobody has achieved since.

There are however – in the case of Haider – two other sizeable questions. Firstly, why Hamlet? Hamlet is by far Shakespeare’s most complex tragedy. Not that Bhardwaj’s prowess with story-telling is to be questioned for he isthe one who has given us gems like ‘Omkara’ and ‘Maqbool’, the play itself comes with an inflexible pathos that can only be delimited on stage. Consider the fact that the play has at its centre apart from the betrayal, and the volatility of the prince’s character himself, the severe question of his royalty –Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The sentiment of revenge in the Renaissance years of Shakespeare was borne out of bloodlines: that the name, the crown was supreme as compared to life or death of hundreds, thousands and if the need be even thousands.


Fast forward to modern times and you can introduce the factor of survival – that when there is a paucity of means, man will do as told. Superimposing a modern map of emotional flux on ‘Haider’ is nearly impossible. Superimposing an ancient one, even more so since the protagonist of the film is destined to return to ruins, as was the reason for him leaving in the first place. In other words, the stigma marking Haider’s pre-return-to-home years are about as accountable for the state of his mind as they should be on his much awaited return. There are other issues as well, with the conniving ghost of his father, the unimpressively narrated madness and eventual death of Ophilia played by Shraddha Kapoor, and the paper-thin roles of Ophelia’s father and brother.

Granted the vast and perhaps, infinite scope in adapting this literary jewel many a details have often been looked over. Joseph Stalin deemed the play as ‘dangerous’ and banned it from being staged in the then Soviet Union. Over the years, it hasnot only drawn interest from literary critics but psychoanalysts too. It is perhaps impossible to adapt the play to a two-dimensional medium for even the prince’s verbal soliquoques are a thing to marvel at, with the advantage of a variable vantage point- as in a theatre. The film however – let us be kind — valiantly attempts.

Second, why Kashmir? For those who have been batting the wayward deliveries of repost from viewers that the film is “anti-India”, take into account the fact that this is an adaptation. An adaptation has to be staged, and a stage has to be a physical space where all the necessary conflicting emotions have to co-exist. Look at the film as a piece of art in isolation. Other than that every film ever made can be attached to an underlying propaganda, one that only happens to be political in this case and hence scrutinized rather more by a naturally biased viewership. Then there is the indented need for political rationing in a story that otherwise falls to its knees without the ‘other’ intent. But why Kashmir at all? Perhaps, purely for the visual capital, but Bhardwaj has been known to pull high-dimensional rabbits out of the hat and has hardly ever been dependent on the statement of visual glory in his films. Or perhaps, it always had to be Kashmir for Vishal. Let us leave it at. He can so he did.

While ‘Haider’ fails as most films have in bringing out the real auspices of Shakespeare’s immortal tale Bhardwaj does pack a punch in delivering a Kashmir flavoured audio-visual delicacy. The underutilization of Irrfan Khan and near tool-to-the-machine-of-progression presence of another asset in KK Menon, is unpardonable. The film however, does bring about the best in Tabu – a much awaited return. Shahid Kapoor tries, and momentarily flees his in-city persona but eventually succumbs to the towering presence of esteemed actors around him. In conclusion, Haider fails where most films have in the past, but can be commended for direction, its honest-to-the-cause coursing and a stellar performance by Tabu.

Manik Sharma reads and writes, and that is about as interesting as he gets.

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