Haider: A film with incredible Chutzpah

Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider is the boldest movie you will see made on Kashmir.


How do you adapt a play to a movie?

Not just any play, but one of the most adapted plays of all time, one that has been done, redone and re-enacted in theater, in film and in literature for 500 years now. A work that is discussed and analyzed from political, historic, psychoanalytical and feminist angles by experts even today.

Image Source www.fullonbollywood.in

Image Source www.fullonbollywood.in

Maybe you would start with the place – Denmark, where the politics was defined by a long-standing feud and imminent fear of invasion by neighbouring Norway; where winters are long and population sparse. You find a place where the entire community embodies the central trait of the protagonist – paranoia, and an existence governed by indecision and conflict every single day. Even if it means you are walking on a minefield where sentiment runs farther than sensibility.

And the time – Would you travel as back as the conflict started, “to the stroke of midnight” in 1947 when the unsuspecting population didn’t know what was in store for them? Or set it in 1995, when 6 foreign tourists were kidnapped and Kashmir became an international story of war and violence. A time by when men and women were used to being woken up to announcements on speakers asking them to assemble in the middle of a town, where a nameless, faceless officer could press the horn of his jeep and send you off to a place where you cannot be found.

And the protagonists – The confused prince with his head in the clouds becomes a poetry student. The King becomes a doctor who stands on the side of life (and all that is good, if there is such a thing). His unceremonious and unwelcome successor, his brother, becomes an MLA who wins 100 votes in a constituency where 110 votes were cast because no one believed in law and order anymore in the Valley. The chief counsellor to the king is now his friend and is a Police Officer. His son, Laertes who is off to France in the original, is working for a multi-national company in Bangalore.

Image source: blastatrumpet.wordpress.com

Image source: blastatrumpet.wordpress.com

And the themes – Would you leave a faintly traceable hint of Oedipal complex in the air as you capture the face of the mother when the son kisses her on the neck? Would you make the mother a stepmother and not let her share the bed with her brother immediately after she lost her husband so that it is more comfortable to the Indian tradition? Would you cut the movie to a manageable size and not show the frustrating indecision of Hamlet in killing his uncle?

And the symbolisms – In how many ways can you play that one line that everyone knows from the play? And to what varied efforts? To hilarity, to pathos, to frustration and as a signpost to watch the man descend to madness? Would you show your hero with a skull in his hand talking of the meaninglessness of life in a grave? Show him in black throughout the film, that upset his mother in the play. Would you show the madness and the pretensions?

Image Source www.apnatimepass.com

Image Source www.apnatimepass.com

And the ghost – Would you make him a dream? A hallucination? A nameless spectre? Or would you call him that – “A ghost” and make him a man of flesh and blood, dressed in white with a crooked stride, appearing and disappearing out of nowhere. And let the audience chuckle when he calls himself the ‘doctor’s ghost’.

And once you have set the board and chosen the pieces, how would you paint the canvas? Would you – like everyone before you – shoot the lake, the boats and the snowy bosoms of the mountains in Kashmir and finish the rest of the shoot in a much more accessible Mussouri? (for you know, no one will know the difference). Or would you take us all through the narrow roads, the bridges you can’t cross, the traditional houses and the quilts. Would you let us watch them drinking tea, walking in everyday clothes and twisting English words in their characteristic accents?

Image Source: www.kashmirobserver.net

Image Source: www.kashmirobserver.net

And those little details and quirks? A short story of a man who cannot enter his home out of fear becomes a scene in your film. Where the sidekicks who would be most incongruous in such a context become two characters who try and walk in the fine line between a friend and foe, all the while grooving to chartbusters from the 90s. Or gravediggers swinging to the coolest song in the movie while they dig their own graves to lie down in.

Even if you did all this, you are not going to set a movie in Kashmir, make us sympathetic to a separatist supporter, take a dig at the army – and then go ahead and make a joke on AFSPA (and not bother explaining). You surely wouldn’t let your protagonist make an entire speech about AFSPA and its chutzpah.

And lastly, what would you do with the core motive of the protagonist that drives the play – Revenge? Intekam is the voice that drives the film forward. And when enough blood has spilled on the blemishless snow, limbs are severed and flesh burned – when the hunted is inches away from his end, what do you do? You invoke a line from an earlier scene from the film (“Revenge only results in revenge”) where one remarks on the futility of revenge to the fighters of freedom of the state – And thus blurring the line between the central plot and the context.

Image Source: Haider Movie Facebook page

Image Source: Haider Movie Facebook page

You can fault Haider for many things – For its length, for some of its casting choices, for its indulgence. But you cannot fault Haider and its maker for one thing – Chutzpah. This is a bold film on all counts by a director who is so sure of his craft that he is not just telling you a story. He is creating a work of art – filling the screen with brush-worthy landscape, bridging silences with a score so haunting, drawing performances out of every actor and saying so much and still leaving so much unsaid.

Make no mistakeHaider is not about Hamlet. It is about Ghazala. The woman married to a righteous, respected but uncaring man, but falling for his conniving, untrustworthy younger brother and deeply desired by a confused son who is caught between tales told to him and is not sure anymore what is true.

Image source: www.patrika.com

Image source:
www.patrika.com

Make no mistakeHaider is not about Hamlet. It is about Kashmir. A state that is part of a respected nation in the international arena, wooed by a suitor that is unstable and impoverished and stuck in the hands of jingoists who know not what the future holds but hold the flag of freedom. This at a time when floods have ravaged it and leaders are making it an international issue of ownership.

By the time the credit rolls, Ghazala is but a voice with not even a fingernail intact. The director reassures us the state is doing better for he has been able to shoot an entire film there. Either way, he has made his point.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rathish Balakrishnan is a co-founder at Sattva Media and Consulting Pvt. Ltd. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rathish Balakrishnan is a co-founder at Sattva Media and Consulting Pvt. Ltd. more

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