Haider: A Painfully Beautiful Movie That Dares To Challenge The Mainstream Narrative On Kashmir

Posted on October 4, 2014 in Media

By Heeba Din:

Putting a highly politicised story on the big screen and amidst #boycotthaider trending on twitter, Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of the Shaekesperan play “Hamlet” has managed to stand out on its own.


Set in the insurgency hit Kashmir of 1995, the movie dwells into the murky lanes of lives at conflict in the valley; when young Haider returns to Kashmir receiving the news of his disappeared father who the army had picked up, leaving behind no trace of his whereabouts. The plot further extends into the engaging drama between Gazala (Tabu), Haider’s mother, who deals with being a half widow and Haider’s accusations of being in relationship with his unfaithful uncle (Kay Kay Menon). This is a painfully beautiful movie shot at wonderful locations that exude the pain and gloom that compliments the narrative, but yet, somehow, manages to lose out on the storyline.

Haider is loaded with power packed performances. The amazingly enigmatic Tabu, who plays the role of Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother), steals the show by the sheer brilliance of her acting, and manages, at times, to take your attention away from the main protagonist of the movie – “Haider”. Shahid Kapoor has done an equally  amazing job in portraying a character layered with revenge, rage and madness. K.K. Menon, who plays the role of Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, is as always brilliant and to add to that, the guest appearance of Irfan Khan, who plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and the delicateness of Arhsia (Shradda Kapoor), further adds weight to the plot of the movie.

The dark theme of the plot is perfectly complimented by the use of colours, amazing cinematography, perfect background score and Gulzar’s magical words. Add to that the intricate detailing taken care of in the movie, it successfully captures the essence of the state and takes you away from the beaten down version of flower laden shikaras and yodelling Bollywood actors.

After 41 cuts from the censor board, what Haider has managed to do is to speak about the story of conflict and the pain of Kashmir in the mainstream Indian cinema. While it doesn’t succeed in showing the tragedy of this land, but the mention of plebiscite, disarmament, AFSPA, enforced disappearances, and tortures, however subtle or subverted they maybe, is a brave attempt on the part of both Vishal Bharadwaj and the UTV banner.

One of the main reasons why Haider manages to talk about and capture the essence of the Kashmir conflict is because of its script writer, Basharat Peer, who might not have successfully justified the adaptation of Hamlet, but has managed to justify the Kashmiri narrative in the Indian mainstream.

With the deeply politicised issue of Kashmir that has always seen propagandist reportage and portrayal on the big screen, the big test for Haider will be to see if the mass audiences of India, who are literally information starved with regards to the Kashmir conflict, will be able to digest the image of the ever heroic Indian Army as perpetrators of crime and torture.

Even though the movie really doesn’t go all out in portraying the real account of horrors that the people of the valley have faced, but Haider scores in bringing out the issues of mass disappearances and AFSPA in the public discourse. The daily lives which are not monitored by the time on the clock but the curfew timings of the army, the constant frisking, security checks and the barbed wires.

Also, the subtle references like the 90’s famous protest song which was sort of an anthem for the Kashmir insurgents during the time, that young Haider is seen singing in the background when Gazala (his mother) finds a revolver in his school bag, and the cheeky referral of Papa 2 — the infamous interrogation centre in the guise of Mama 2, and also the scene in the press colony where the scriptwriter Basharat peer makes his Bollywood debut, marked by the presence of Maqbool Bhat posters in the background, mixes well with Kashmir’s narrative, but surprises you that censor board let it through because of its notorious history of censorship.

One of the major drawbacks of the movie is that the Kashmir issue is so heavy and layered that Hamlet’s adaptation and Kashmir narrative becomes choppy, also the projection of Kashmir’s plight and suffering seems so tight roped that it fails to comment on the issue due to which at the end of the movie, the viewers will be clueless whom to feel for – the individual pain, or the larger agony of the situation in context.

However, one cannot help but smirk at the end of the movie where the lines read “In the recent devastating flood of Kashmir, India Army saved the lives of Thousands of civilians, we salute their efforts and valour.” The intention behind which reveals how free Indian cinema is to comment (don’t ignore the sarcasm).