Director Vishal Bahrdwaj has made two previous films inspired by William Shakespeareâ€™s plays : Maqbool (based on Macbeth) and Omkara (based on Othello). Haider is based on Hamlet, and set in Kashmir circa 1995.
Aligarh University student Haider (Shahid Kapoor) has returned home to Anantnag after his fatherâ€™s disappearance. His father Dr. Hilal Meer (Jha) has been arrested by the Indian Army, after harboring a known terrorist in his home. The doctorâ€™s whereabouts are now unknown. Haider meets his grieving mother Ghazala (Tabu) at his Chacha Khurram Meerâ€™s (Menon) home, where he realises that there is more to his fatherâ€™s disappearance than meets the eye.
Haider reminded me faintly of Gulzarâ€™s Maachis, in its man-against-system story telling. Bhardwaj has situated the Bardâ€™s story amid the disruption of the Kashmir valley. The Indian Army is out in full force. Roadblocks, searches and curfews are a way of life. It is a time of suspicion and unrest.
Haider is long and tragic, and maintains a depressive mood throughout with the snow and the starkness. The plot events are tragic, there is much sadness and crying, angst and anger. It moves slowly, but still manages to engross until about the last 1/4th of the film. Like in his earlier films, here too Bhardwaj creates memorable characters and casts them beautifully. Tabu is superb as the happy/sad Ghazala Meer with the perpetually moist eyes. Kaykay Menon is marvelous as the politically wily Khurram. And Irrfan Khan as the limping Roohdar is impressive even in his short role. Even minor characters like the video-parlor owning brothers Salman & Salman, with their â€śMaine Pyar Kiyaâ€ť fetish, are uniquely interesting.
While Shahid is acceptable as Haider, his character failed to elicit much of a response from me. Shahid is a fine actor (remember â€śKamineyâ€ť?), so Iâ€™m going to blame character development here. Shraddha Kapoor as Haiderâ€™s sympathetic lady-love Arshee also fails to bring the heft required by the role. Kulbhushan Kharbanda appears fleetingly; it was disappointing to not see more of him.
I did like the film although it falls short when compared to Maqbool or Omkara. Bhardwaj is a genius, and creates an atmospheric film, pulling the viewer into the deep end with him. I do think that he goes a little OTT towards the end (the singing grave-diggers etc.), but then finishes off the movie very strongly. I did not feel an emotional pull for the hero, although he is wronged. And that I can partially chalk up to the fact that the movie seems sympathetic to the terrorists and mildly anti-Indian-Army. Bhardwaj also takes on AFSPA, and itâ€™s human rights implications, so the plot is muddied a bit; this is not just Hamlet, this is Hamlet in the time of terrorism.
Haider has an impressive soundtrack and a gorgeous background score. Bhardwaj also provides the music, imbuing each song with the hopelessness of the characters singing them.
This movie is a large dose of gloom and doom, delivered in Bhardwajâ€™s characteristic style, and well worth a watch.