Hamlet or Haider? Thou dichotomy most profound! A review in 3 acts.

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Act 1, Scene 1 – Initial Reactions and Score

9.5/10. Finally! After a year of mostly average Bollywood films, save the delightful Finding Fanny, Queen and the great Dedh Ishqiya from the man himself (Vishal Bhardwaj produced), we have a film we can truly call the best of 2014 – Haider.

Ever since I got wind of this adaptation (over a year ago), I was waiting with bated breath. This is after all the same director who gave us Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Haider is the crown jewel that completes Bhardwaj’s Holy Trinity of Shakespearean Tragedies.

Act 1, Scene 2 – The Adaptation

Having studied Hamlet in school (and having played the role myself in a play) I was intrigued as to how Bhardwaj would marry Kashmir’s political tale to the ‘tragic history of the Prince of Denmark’.

Turns out, Kashmir and its political climate is the perfect setting for an adaptation of Hamlet. The atmosphere in Kashmir has been in a state of tension ever since 1947-48, and with the number of kids taking up arms for azaadi (Independent Kashmir) and the constant intrusion from neighbours (need I say who), it fits in quite nicely with the state of the Danish Court in the original play.

But even as you think that Bhardwaj is truly faithful to the original, some of his departures from the original are just brilliant pieces of writing and filmmaking. I can give you two instances – Haider’s ‘Ghost’ who tells him to avenge his father, and the climax. I won’t give anything away; you’ll have to watch it to experience its brilliance.

Act 2, Scene 1 – The Main Characters

Haider (Hamlet) – Shahid Kapoor

He’s the modern day Hamlet a.k.a. Haider of Kashmir. Unfortunately though, in a situation like Kashmir’s, there are a countless Haiders out there. Vishal Bhardwaj has chosen to tell his story. The last really outstanding performance from Shahid Kapoor came 5 years ago in Kaminey – directed by none other than Vishal Bhardwaj himself! There is something about VB that brings out the very best in Shahid. And in Haider, Shahid portrays the angst of a young man, distraught at the prospect of his father being dead (Dr. Hilal Meer, played by Narendra Jha, a brilliant casting decision), and disillusioned by the antics of his mother Ghazala (the magnificent Tabu) and slimy uncle Khurram Meer (welcome back, Kay-Kay Menon). He truly consumes the role with the hunger of a man who hasn’t done too much justice to his potential. For me, his high point is the song Bismil, where we get to see the man’s acting AND dancing talent in one go.

Ghazala (Gertrude) – Tabu

Ghazala is The Godmother of this ensemble. At the same time, she portrays the grief-stricken half-widow of Dr. Hilal Meer, the evil lady enjoying her illicit affair with Khurram, and the concerned mother of Haider. She juggles so many emotions at the same time that it’s hard to know what she’s thinking. But one thing is certain – no matter what her affection towards Khurram, it’s Haider she truly loves. She is the glue that holds (or at least tries to hold) all the broken fragments of her life. Tabu pulls off this one with panache, and I put this on par with her role from Maqbool. Easily the best performance of the movie.

Khurram Meer (Claudius) – Kay Kay Menon

Welcome back, you slimy, sleazy scumbag. Where were you all this while Mr. Menon? Kay Kay returns with a powerhouse performance that we have come to expect of this man. He is a living example of schadenfreude, a man who revels in the spotlight and enjoys being at the top at any cost. His high points are many, but again his best comes in the Bismil song – his change of expression and the range of emotions he goes through in that one song is palpable. We want more of you, Mr. Menon. More of this from you.

Dr. Hilal Meer (King Hamlet) – Narendra Jha

I got a distinct Bharat Bhushan vibe when I first saw him on screen. For good measure too – he plays the role of the upright, god-fearing, ghazal-singing doctor stuck in a dangerous land. He plays the perfect father. And oh, these lines: Haider, mera inteqaam lena mere bhai se… uski un dono aankhon mein goliyaan daaghna, jin aankhon se usne tumhari MAA par fareb daale the. He says it with a sincerity and intensity that you cannot help but empathise with.

Roohdaar (?) – Irrfan Khan

I’m not saying anything about him. Watch the film to find out how his role is brilliantly written and of course, acted out.

Act 2, Scene 2 – The Supporting Cast

Arshia (Ophelia) – Shraddha Kapoor

She’s not just a cute face in this group of highly talented actors. Shraddha Kapoor holds her own as the girl who truly loves Haider and her family in equal measure. She’s torn between her two worlds. Shraddha adds a touch of liveliness and freshness to the surroundings.

The Salman Khan Fan Club (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) – Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat

‘Friends’ of Haider who later act as Khurram’s spies. They bring comic relief to the very tense surroundings of Kashmir. There’s also 90s Salman nostalgia to enjoy. Again, these are excellently scripted and acted out.

Arshia’s Dad (Polonius) – Lalit Parimoo

We’ve seen him in countless serials, TV ads and small roles. This too isn’t much different, although he plays the father with panache.

The Gravediggers

Taken straight out of Hamlet, these guys give the climax its much-needed tension release. No, it’s not that they make a mockery of the situation. It’s just that they almost appear out of nowhere and take the climax to another level with their singing, their graveyard humour and their earnestness. Magnificent little touch there from Mr. Bhardwaj. And what an ode to the original!

Act 3, Scene 1 – The Dichotomy

To be or not to be?

Main rahu, ya na rahu?

In the original play, we are introduced to this soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1.

Bhardwaj has used it brilliantly. You can see it strewn across the fabric of this film and almost every character has this dilemma. But none more so than Haider himself. If you are a fan of Hamlet, you will certainly enjoy the way this has been used.

Act 3, Scene 2 – The Cherries on the Cake

Where do I begin? The cinematography, the music, the expertly written dialogues, the ghazals… there is just so much to love about Haider, and not enough ink in the world. And how can I forget Mr. Vishal Bhardwaj, the orchestrator of this magnum opus? He’s given us three absolutely magnificent films, adapted from the Bard’s original plays. What next? King Lear? I hope so.

So, to watch or not to watch?

No question. YOU BETTER WATCH IT. Yeh film mein kaafi CHUTZPAH hai.

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