That Haider (which NF had the privilege of watching on Oct 3rd) is the weakest among all the films comprising VB's Shakespearean trilogy is a testimonial not to Haider's failing as a work of art but more as a statement about how brilliant, stunning and not-so-much-as-paradigm-shifting-but-paradigm-fuckin'-bulldozing Maqbool and Omkara were. Haider's soundtrack is excellent, the acting, simply phenomenal (Tabu might've just staked her claim as among the all-time greats that Hindi cinema has ever produced; curiously enough, the great Shakti Kapoor's little daughter also puts in a remarkably self-assured performance); and the technically accomplished, slick cinematography can't fail to mesmerize. Overall, Haider proves to be an exquisite adaptation and shows a true master at the height of his creative powers.
NF is reminded of Dostoyevsky's review of Anna Karenina in which for pages upon pages Dostoyevsky gushed over the merits of the novel and rapturously praised Tolstoy for his great gifts - only to begin an even longer new thread, sharply critical of the novel and of its numerous failings. In his characteristic immodesty, having praised enough, NF now begins to subject Haider to the same treatment; and so some somewhat scattered notes and observations, along with very minor spoilers follow:
- Why does Haider not pack the punch that Maqbool and Omkara did? Is it because Kashmir is not such a familiar tromping ground for VB (except for the minor Irfan Khan segment in Saat Khoon Maaf) as Bombay or UP? While considerable efforts have been spent in trying to preserve local Kashmiri accents, culture and idiosyncrasies, one wonders if this well-researched but ultimately foreign-for-VB-domain is the culprit for a certain choppiness that has crept into the adaptation.
- The comedy in the film seems forced. It is not integral to the structure, nor does it add to any of the aspects that the film focuses on. It seems an afterthought - much like the mandatory inclusion of a comic actor and some goofy-ass slapstick scenes in Ramsay Bros. horror films - more as an instrument of bleakness alleviation than as a narrative propeller. (The chutzpah/AFSPA connection was funny though!)
- While tackling difficult subjects implicating the Indian government in its repressive treatment of its own citizens and the ensuing militancy is not unprecedented in mainstream Hindi films (cf. Mani Ratnam in Roja and Dil Se... and Santosh Sivan in The Terrorist among others), Haider is unparalleled in its unflinching and unsparing depiction of the levels of violence and intimidation that Indian army unleashed in order to quell the rebellion in Kashmir. This is courageous and heartening for a mainstream Hindi release! We can all scoff together now at such half-hearted attempts to Bollywoodize terrorism as in Mission Kashmir and in Fiza (both curiously starring Hrithik Roshan whose Bang Bang is stealing away viewers from Haider! Boo!).
- Personally, NF appreciates Shakespeare much more now due to VB's work than he did in his mandatory school readings. In a sense, however, as was pointed out by NF's English teacher back during the Jurassic Age, Shakespeare does appear to have some uniquely Bollywood characteristics that are ubiquitous in his oeuvre (to be expounded upon later) but maybe that's just medieval theater.
- Was it Tabu's incredibly awesome acting or was VB nodding to various feminist readings of the play in which Hamlet's mother and Ophelia assume more importance that the titular hero? One can only guess.
- Also very heartening to see are recent developments in Hindi cinema in which modern Indian Muslim life is shown without either scorn or patronage. Films of such character have been very few and mainstream depiction of Muslims has been perfunctory - much like the token black character in Hollywood films. A few older films like Garam Hawa, Mammo etc. had tried to rectify this but they were the artsy type and not-so-mainstream. However, recent films like Iqbal, Well Done Abba, Maqbool, Ishaqzade, Gangs of Wasseypur and of course Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya have done yeoman service to rehabilitate the image of ordinary Indian Muslim citizens as being...well, ordinary humans (funny it took so much time and effort!); and VB, his protege Abhishek Chaubey and unsurprisingly Shyam-fuckin'-Benegal are at the forefront. Haider is another installment in this series. Bravo!
- Please correct if NF is wrong but Salman Khan was most definitely not referred to as 'bhai' in '95. That happened way after he buffed up in Veergati for the first time.
- NF wanted to rush to write a long review of the film, having noticed details that other reviewers didn't catch on to; but the great Jabberwock beat him again by stealing his show, for example, by noticing the rich symbolism behind Irfan Khan's name 'Roohdar' - an obvious stand-in for the soul of the dead King who exhorts Hamlet to extract revenge. (In one scene, Irfan Khan makes it explicit by claiming to the Doctor (King) that while the doctor, mere mortal flesh, will soon die, he himself won't since he is the soul of the doctor.) I quote from his as always, excellent review, which I exhort you to read in full:
"Scenes such as the gravediggers’ goofy song “So Jao” are reminders of how similar Shakespeare’s work is to a certain type of Hindi film: the episodic structures with constant shifting of moods and tones, the melodrama and the cheerful bawdiness, the use of clowns as 'sutradhaars' who get to say unexpectedly profound things. Watching the “Ek aur Bismil” sequence where Haider confronts his uncle during the course of a celebratory song, even someone who knows his Hamlet might forget "the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king" and instead recall “Ek Haseena Thi” in Karz – but of course Shakeapeare’s “lowbrow” dramatic flair has influenced popular Hindi cinema for decades, and that Karz song is part of the tradition.
This is also one reason why Haider’s wildly over-the-top Rosencrantz and Guildenstern worked for me. Turning these two spy-buffoons into Salman Khan-obsessives in a video parlour (complete with the playing of “Tumse jo Dekhte Hi Pyaar Hua” on the car stereo in a grim late scene) was an inspired touch. It’s loud, cutesy, front-bencher stuff…and I think Shakespeare would have heartily approved of it."
Haider is fine, fine film though not the best VB has ever made (that credit belongs, most definitely to Maqbool, though Omkara comes a close second). Its sometimes discontinuous, a little choppy editing won't please avant gardists or those suffering from the Somnath syndrome but for a mainstream Bollywood Hindi film, it's brilliant and a huge, huge step forward!
Take a bow VB!