By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Haider”; Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Irrfan Khan; Director: Vishal Bhardwaj; Rating: *** 1/2)
With revenge as the underlying motive, “Haider” is a quintessential Vishal Bhardwaj film adapted from one of Shakespeare’s most powerful and influential tragedies – “Hamlet”. It’s a tale of a son’s quest for his missing father.
Set in Kashmir circa 1995 the film outlines the story of Haider (Shahid Kapoor) who returns to Kashmir from Aligarh, upon learning of his father, Hilaal Meer’s disappearance. While pining for his father, he chances upon the romance brewing between his mother Ghazala (Tabu) and his father’s brother Khurram (Kay Kay Menon).
When Haider sets out in search of his father, his childhood sweetheart, Ashi (Shraddha Kapoor) helps him. Through her, he meets Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) a Pakistani militant, who makes him believe that his father has been manipulatively murdered. That marks the beginning of the revenge saga.
The first half of the film is light-hearted and meanders aimlessly, but it is the lengthy second half that picks up the momentum and beautifully wraps up the film.
Overloaded with tense moments, the film has numerous dramatic interludes that are edgy and gripping. Vishal Bhardwaj astutely creates tension in the scene where Haider is watching Khurram dancing and singing for his mother and intermittently calling her “bhabhijaan”.
On the performance front, the film belongs to Shahid, while Tabu and Kay Kay Menon provide ample support with their well-etched characters. Their powerful performances make “Haider” a delightful cinematic experience.
Shahid steals the show with his controlled and zealous rendering of Haider. His monologue at the town square with a transistor hanging from his waist is particularly worthy of a mention. Initially, it seems comical, but effectively encapsulates, not only his grief, but also brings out the antagonism of the local Kashmiris.
Similarly, Tabu’s yearning for love and guilt-ridden behaviour are effectively expressed, proving her versatility. Kay Kay matches her intensity with his dramatic fervour.
Shraddha as the charming Ashi and Irrfan with his enigmatic getup and an obvious limp, have nothing much to offer by way of performances.
With Hindi, Urdu and the Kashmiri dialects, Bhardwaj creates a realistic backdrop for his characters. He also captures the strained and edgy political scenario of Kashmir with honesty. There is unintentional humour and poetry in the dialogues, which enhance the charm of the film.
The screenplay is well designed and the songs, as is always the case in Bhardwaj’s films, are a treat. “Bismil, Bismil” and “Na shaam ya saveraa” are well choreographed and meshed beautifully into the otherwise grim plot.
Visually too, “Haider” is one of Bhardwaj’s aesthetically framed films. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography highlights Kashmir in all its glory, displaying the beauty of the seasons. The atmospheric lighting adds to its visual appeal. The snow-filled frames are a delight to watch. But the jerky camera movements in some of the tense scenes are an aberration and mar the viewing experience.
Overall, “Haider” is a well made film complimented with dramatic performances, strong script and fine music. Don’t miss this one.