Very rarely do films stress me out. But Haider (the Bollywood interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet) managed to do just that.
Haider’s existential and oedipal issues regarding trust and faith (or lack of it) in people he loves and the search for his “disappeared” father are at the core of the story, and Kashmir’s political crisis form the backdrop of the movie. The tragic and potent combination of both these factors and the resultant discomforting effect that it has, is one that will stay with you, much after the film finishes.

Vishal Bhardwaj completes his trilogy after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello), and does a magnificently heartrending job of it.

As a director, Bhardwaj is able to weave Hamlet’s story into the political narrative of Kashmir, by taking elements like the half numb, half hopeful plea of an “aadhi bewa” (half widow) who only knows that her doctor-husband has been “disappeared” (after helping cure a militant with an appendicitis problem) into any of the many detention camps instated by the army. Or when the cops tell Haider, “Tu bhi disappear ho jayega, aapne baap ki tarah” (You too will disappear like your father) when he is desperately searching for his father. Or for that matter, when a man stands frozen and immobile in front of his own house door….unable to enter….only because he hasn’t been checked for arms and ammunitions yet, and been “permitted” to go ahead. This is executed superbly in a scene where Irfan Khan enters with a message from Haider’s father, who is later revealed to have met his end after being tortured and pushed into the Jhelum river.

The knowledge about his father’s death, and the covert and implicit involvement of his “asteen ka saap” (snake in the grass) uncle, who shamelessly goes onto marry his mother – drives Haider over the edge, who then becomes a tragicomic caricature of his previous reticent and confused self.

It is at this point where the classic question of “To be or not to be” is raised by him.

Dil ki agar sunu toh tu hai… Dimag ki sunu toh tu hai nahi. Jaan lun ki Jaan dun? Main rahoon ki main nahi

Or when he says something to the effect of … “ki kya karen, jab sawaal ka jawaab bhi ek sawaal hi hain”

Haider is compelled to take revenge against his uncle, as that is his father’s dying wish – “Haider, mera inteqaam lena mere bhai se…uski un dono aankh mei gooliyaan taakna, jin aankho se usne tumhari maa par fareeb daale the”.

The smooth deceipt with which Ghazala, Haider’s mother, is blinded by the uncle, finally drives her to gnawing disbelief and despair.

But in the end, when his mother quietly decides to die a suicide bomber’s death, Haider is shown at the nadir of his wretched, emotionally and psychologically torn self, and walks away from his uncle without killing him (he is left crawling on the snow with both his legs blown off, as a result of the bomb going off and him trying to save his wife/Haider’s mother).

The women in the movie, Ghazala (Gertrude/Haider’s mother) and Arshia (Ophelia) form the quiet yet powerful heart of the movie. The oedipal tension between the mother and son, and the tender-fragile love between Arshia and Haider are narratives that become the “rooh” or soul of the film.

The scene where Arshia sits unraveling the muffler that she had knitted for her father, after he dies, is painfully symbolic of the helpless unraveling of her personal peace and love for Haider, since he is the one who shoots her father (while trying to save himself). And for me, the most macabre scene in the movie, is when Haider realizes that Arshia is dead and literally lifts her from her grave, and refuses to bury her…hugging her shrouded, lifeless body in denial. Just before the climax, where both the women kill themselves, there is a song where the grave diggers sing out to Haider, inviting him to come, dig his own grave, and lie peacefully there (“aao apni kabr khodo”).

The complexities of human emotions and the myriad layers of the psychological mindscape upon which they are laid upon – is the triumph of Haider/Hamlet as a tragedy. It is the eternal yet futile Sisyphean search for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The search for trust, faith, love, and peace in a world where slowly and systematically everything you have known as your own, is disintegrating and all you are left with is a fragmented, schizophrenic reality that only throws out endless searing questions with no answers in sight.


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