By Sunil Kumar

A macabre symphony of sorts; Haider; the Vishal Bharadwaj adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a dark look at a subject that is dour and serious in the first place; the Himalayan vale of Kashmir.

Let me begin with the end. The director and his team thank the Indian army for their superhuman rescue effort in the floods that besieged the state. Apart from that; what some critics have surmised seems to be correct; the state apparatus(J&K and the Indian Union) do not come out looking good in this narrative.

The director may inform us that this is a personal creative take that he has penned along with Basharat Peer; the Kashmiri scribe. To be fair; the music is an Indian fugue; the lyricism of the Urdu language in the garb of a revenge tale; playing with human emotions; in the way the medieval Englishman always put through in his vast oeuvre of literary creations.

The prince of Denmark, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude are played by Haider(Shahid Kapoor) and Tabu(Ghazala). The Indian audience may be petrified by the Oedipal complex of Shakespeare’s original; so we have the character of Claudius or Khurram(Kay Kay Menon) who arranges for Haider’s father’s death. The military threat from Norway is replaced by India’s arch-enemy Pakistan which can be a far more deadlier adversary.

Tourism in Kashmir has improved in recent times; with a semblance of normality in an Islamized environment. Hindu India; true to its philosophy of hackneyed secularism; turns a blind eye to the plight of the Pandits. The filmmakers operate under the time-tested version of artistic license; but a valley of blood is the overwhelming motif here. Shammi Kapoor‘s yodeling in the 60s valley was more of an advertisement for the charms of Kashmir but then we live in an age of realism and imagined angst.

Bharadwaj has stated that he wanted to complete his Shakespearean trilogy with either King Lear or Hamlet; and then narrowed the choice down to the Prince of Denmark. The music is typical Gulzar; with no pretensions to the usual commercial item numbers. Shahid Kapoor’s performance is interesting; and he comes across as a troubled youth; but whether this is useful for weaning away a disgruntled semi-literate audience away from the charm of a separatist ideology is debatable.

Haider pulls of a “Karz” song in the ancient environment of the Martand sun-temple; and we get a lot of self-righteousness in the movie. Sometimes it does gets boring; and one wonders whether the usual Bollywood song-and-dance formula with a touch of slapstick is sometimes livelier than the drab look at Kashmir’s innards.

Rosencratz and Guildenstern make an appearance in the two Salmans(who spend their time watching Salman Khan movies) as the police spies sent to engage with Haider. If Tom Stoppard ever watches a Hindi movie; then he may wonder at the new take on the characters used in his absurdist play. Polonius and Laertes are the characters of the Pervez Lone and his son along with Ophelia(Arshia); played by Shraddha Kapoor. The graveyard along with a skull also make an appearance; but then that’s too much detail about the movie.

If only this were a comic film instead of the semi-tragic adaptation; then the overwhelming envelope of darkness that one senses after seeing this may have been lifted. In aesthetic terms; interesting but otherwise; I can’t get no satisfaction.

The “filmi” set is also into the paisa-vasool mode; so “Bang Bang” is making more money. Need I say more?


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