Sunday, October 05, 2014


Hell in Kashmir

That Vishal Bhardwaj and other filmmakers (the many recent Romeo & Juliets) run to Shakespeare when short of ideas, is a tribute to the Bard, whose works transcend barriers of time, language and country.

Of the three Shakespeare plays that Bhardwaj has picked, Haider  (Hamlet) is the most difficult and hence the most painstakingly put together. It is set in Kashmir of the mid nineties when militancy was at its peak, as was army presence, and the accuracy of the conditions depicted must have a lot to do with Basharat Peer’s script—the journalist who wrote the award-winning book Curfewed Night about the Kashmir conflict.

The people of Kashmir were caught between the violence of separatists and the resultant repressive measures the Indian army was forced to adopt to fight the menace.  Many lives were wrecked, and families torn apart as the paradise of Kashmir turned into hell. Bhardwaj’s cinematographer (Pankaj Kumar) captures the grandeur of the old homes as well as the doomed beauty of the landscape.

Haider (Shahid Kapoor) was sent away by his mother Ghazala (Tabu) to Aligarh to get him away from his fascination with the militants. When he returns it is because his father (Narendra Jha) has been arrested for operating on a terrorist, and his home burnt down.

His mother has moved in with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), and it hurts Haider to see her laughing, when according to him, she should have been distraught at her husband’s absence. He makes it a mission to hunt for his father, one of the many who go from camp to camp, search jails and morgues to find some trace of their loved ones’—alive if possible, or even dead to seek closure.  The terms for women whose husbands had disappeared was “half widow.”

In trying to capture all angles of the Kashmir tragedy and also staying more or less faithful to the play, Vishal Bhardwaj does seem to have tied himself up in knots and his attempt to lighten the relentlessly dark and morbid narrative falls flat—like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters called Salman, who are fans of the star and act like him.  The word “chutzpah” will never be the same again after the way it is used in the film. Shraddha Kapoor’s love interest has no spark, but Irrfan Khan as a substitute for the ‘ghost’ is fabulous. And the ‘To be or not to be’ line sound poetic in Hindi-Urdu.

The burden of the heavy film is shouldered by Shahid Kapoor, whose strenuous performance works at both the cerebral and physical level. Tabu’s mature performance of the complex woman is also worthy of appreciation.

Never mind the eventual box-office fate of the film, it means something that the audience for this film was higher than that of Bang Bang in the same South Mumbai moviehall. At least some people do not want mindless entertainment.


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