William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is a masterpiece in literature, and Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Haider' will be talked about in the same vein as one such artistic product in cinematic history. Without mincing many words, this adaptation is no less than Vishal's earlier credible works such as 'Maqbool and 'Omkara'. With 'Haider', the trilogy of Vishal's homage to Shakespearean tragedies is complete, in every sense of the word!
Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj is an exceptional auteur, who knows how an underrated actor (read Shahid Kapoor) will rise above all! Set in the backdrop of the beautiful valley of Kashmir, the director has made sure your eyes move with every frame of the camera panning or zooming in. If the viewers are expecting to see exotic landscapes, then you are in for a toss. This time it's eerie, dark and chilling. Possibly, there can never be a better setting than the turmoil-hit Valley for 'Hamlet'.
The auteur (after this I have to refer him as one), has built up the plot very carefully, intrinsically weaving in the Shakespearean tragedy into it. Shahid aka Haider, comes back from Aligarh, after completing his studies and what is he left with? An old, broken house in Islamabad (don't be surprised, another name for Anantnag is Islamabad), and a wishful desire to find where his 'abbuji' has disappeared. The plight of people in the valley, who have disappeared or are dead (who knows) has been focused upon.
Haider's father, Dr Hilal Meer (here played by Narendra Jha) is a doctor in the Valley, who helps in treating a militant, and then bears the brunt of it, like many in the past. His wife Ghazala Meer (played by Tabu) has many layers in her character, some have been explored while some were left untouched. It was a pleasure watching the magnificent actress, bring out the best in her (and no doubt, she ought to be in 'National School of Drama', like Haider said).
In his quest of searching for his father, Haider gets to know something which rips his soul—his uncle Khurram Meer (played by Kay Kay Menon) has his eyes set on Ghazala. The moment he comes back and watches the 'playful song-dance' duet between the two, his first outburst occurs. It's then we know—Haider loves his mother, but can't forgive. The undertone of 'oedipus complex' between Tabu and Shahid's character is played well by the filmmaker, keeping in taste of the Indian audience.
The use of Kashmiri dialect by most of the characters makes the screenplay very realistic. It's good to see Shahid speak in the local language (at least some words). The role-play of Ophelia in the original play was somebody who loved Hamlet immensely and was his weakness too. Here actress Shraddha Kapoor aka Arshia has perfected her broken English (quite common, if you happen to be a Kashmiri). 'I have lov-ed you more than my life' evokes laughter but the scene actually ignites the soul of the lead character in the film.
Undoubtedly, 'Haider' will be recognised as Shahid's career-best performance. Also, how can we miss to mention the two Salmans in the movie. The Bollywood buffs are the only comic relief in the entire film. Dialogues by Vishal Bhardwaj are well-written, especially the one where he compares 'chutspah' to AFSPA (quite innovative).
Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar had done a brilliant job in reprising the Kashmir of 1995 for the audience. It is incredible how Vishal has shown the darkness that exists within the human psyche, putting it frame-by-frame in connection with the outward beauty of the Vale. Actor Irrfan Khan has only a few moments on screen this time, but he has made sure — his weight is more in the dialogues and his strong screen presence.
Irrfan (Roohdar) appears before interval, and in all white—the darkness is again evoked but in a white symbolism. He is somebody who bares all before Haider and tells him what the truth is—his ulterior motives remain ambiguous. The crookedness in his eyes or a slight limp in his walk, all add up to the characterisation well taken from Shakespeare.
The background music is enchanting, and the songs too will leave a mark. 'Bismil Bismil' by Sukhwinder Singh should not be mistaken as just a song in the film. All those who have read the play would know, how important that entire enactment is for the plot. Yet again, Vishal has done a good job in using the traditional 'Bhand Pather' to enact the entire mystery by Haider. Even 'Aao Na' by Vishal Dadlani has a reason behind it.
After watching 'Haider', all that can be said is that — It is a perfect example of how many have suffered in the Valley and are just left with the question— 'To be or not to be'!