Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s acclaimed tragedy Hamlet. Haider (Shahid Kapoor), a young man returns home to Kashmir on receiving news of his father’s (Narendra Jha) disappearance. Haider learns that security forces have detained his father for harboring militants. He also learns that his mother (Tabu) is in a relationship with his very own uncle (Kay Kay Menon). Intense drama follows between mother and son as both struggle to come to terms with news of his father’s death. Soon Haider learns that his uncle is responsible for the gruesome murder. What follows is his journey to avenge his father’s death.
Some of the scenes are excellent like the scene where everyone has to go out with their identity cards or the scene where Shahid returns to his blasted house. The scene where Shahid asks his mother and uncle if they have started singing and dancing secretly just now or used to from before is very good. Irfan’s entry scene is excellent with a brilliant background score. Shahid’s breakdown at his father’s grave, the speech scene and the subsequent scene with Tabu are the best scenes of the movie.
The screenplay is by Vishal Bhardwaj and the Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer. The adaptation of Hamlet to the political backdrop of Kashmir works excellently in the first half of the movie. The movie works on its own even if one has no idea of it being adapted from Hamlet. Its the second half of the movie that doesn’t work on its own. It becomes more an adaptation of Hamlet and it might be hard to appreciate it if one does not know the story of Hamlet.
Vishal has made some political commentary with his dialogues in his movies before but this is his most political and boldest movie ever. He makes cracks at Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) calling it Chutzpah and Shahid reading out the act. He has a scene where a person does not want to enter his own house till he is searched. He has a scene where a character tells that Nehru had promised Plebiscite but that promise was never honored and that both India and Pakistan never demilitarized Kashmir which they were supposed to. A character points out how they do not call the 3 Lakh Kashmiri Pandits who were driven from their homes as disappeared. Kulbhushan Kharbanda’s character rightfully points out in a important scene that a person wielding a stick won ‘Azaadi’ for India and not a person wielding a gun.
Shahid Kapoor is good in the first half and excellent in the second half. He is brilliant in some scenes specially in the scenes with Tabu. He does remind of Pankaj Kapoor in some scenes. Tabu is excellent in every scene and she proves once again what a great actress she is. Kay Kay Menon is good as Haider’s uncle. Shraddha Kapoor is ok. Irfan Khan is very good in a special appearance. Lalit Maroo, Narendra Jha, Kulbhushan Kharbanda are all good.
The background score by Vishal Bhardwaj is excellent. The song Jhelum sung by Vishal Bhardwaj is picturized very well. The song Khul Kabhi while very good felt totally unnecessary in the movie. Aao Na which is the gravedigger’s song from Hamlet is excellently picturized. Everyone who has seen the movie Karz will think that the picturization of the Bismil song is inspired from the Ek Hasina Thi song from Karz. But the picturization of Ek Hasina Thi might itself be inspired from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet stages a play reenacting his father’s murder to see his uncle’s reaction.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s direction is excellent for the most part. He brilliantly handles the incestuous undertones in the scenes between Haider and his mother. He smartly hints that Irfan’s character is actually Hamlet’s ghost by naming him Rooh aka Roohdar and changes “To be, or not to be” to “To go or not to go”. He also has fun by taking a crack at Salman Khan (which his fans may hate) by naming two characters Salman and making them huge fans of Salman Khan. The movie does feel lengthy and it could have been edited by 15-20 minutes in the second half to make it more engrossing and the climax/ending could have been better. But it still is the best movie of the year so far and highly recommended.Tags: Haider Irfan Khan Kay Kay Menon Member Reviews Reviews Shahid Kapoor Shraddha Kapoor Tabu Vishal Bhardwaj
I forgot to mention in my review that the movie reminded me of Gulzar’s Maachis at times.
This looks similar to “Punjab 1984”, Punjabi movie released this year. That was awesome too.
Have not seen Punjab 1984. Did not like its trailer much but have heard praise from a lot of people. Will try to check it out if I can I get a subtitled version.
Don’t judge any Punjabi movie by promos, now days most of Punjabi movies are good time pass .. 🙂
Hi, sputnik. I m not able to go to ur site by windows 8 in India though it work on mac nd windows phone 8. I tried the trick u told me. But didn’t work. I guess it has to do with some cache issue, as google is telling some nd u were saying u hv changed some cache settings.
Btw agree with u on Haider.. Will provide my detailed comments once I can access the site on desktop, as it is difficult for me on my phone.. Thanks..
Sorry about that. I don’t know why its not working on windows 8 for you.
Glad you also liked Haider. Looking forward to your detailed comments on the movie.
i am in mumbai now so now i am equipped wiht broadband connection. wil download haider since you say “this is most political and boldest movie ever”.but bold in what sense? bashing the army and showing them as villians? heard from bjp fans that the film is “antinational” “pro-terrorist” and so on. #boycott haider was trending on twitter a day ago.but then the film is banned in pak too.
I meant “this is his most political and boldest movie ever” but looks like I missed the word “his”. I made the correction.
Its bold in the sense that the movie is from a Kashmiri point of view. Shahid has a scene in the movie where he bashes both India and Pakistan for playing “Border Border” with Kashmir and everyone starts chanting that they want “Azaadi”. Its understandable that Pakistan will ban the movie but its good that India did not ban the movie.
There was a scene where a good army guy is talking about poetry to Haider and his girlfriend. Ashish Vidyarthi who plays an Indian army general/commander gives a nice speech about how the Indian army had saved them when Pakistanis had attacked Kashmir in 1948.
The bad things that happen to Haider have more do more with his uncle. Haider’s uncle and Shraddha’s father who are Kashmiris are shown as bad. There is a scene where Kulbhushan Karbanda tells a separatist militant that revenge begets only revenge and that India won “Azadi” with a stick and not a gun. The movie ends with some notes during the end credits saying that violence has subsided and that tourist activity has increased in recent years. It also goes on to thank the Indian army for saving thousands of civilians during the recent floods.
Its kind of expected from BJP fans to bash the movie because it rakes up issues like Plebiscite and what Kashmir actually wants. The movie is definitely not from the usually politically correct Indian govt point of view.
but where does boldness comes into picture in all of this? haiders POV cant be the POV of whole kashmir right? “revenge begets revenge” etc have been shown in a number of films before on similar subjects
Its shown to be Kashmir’s POV the way the crowd chants “Azaadi” when Haider says “Is paar bhi lenge” and “Us paar bhi lenge”.
Its also bold from another point of view in the way there are incestuous undertones between Haider and his mother.
Yes “revenge begets revenge” is shown in a number of films on similar subjects and Hamlet is basically a story of revenge. I did not like the climax and ending that much but the ending is again different from movies of similar subjects as Haider does something different than what is expected of him in the final scene.
And as I said in my review “Its the second half of the movie that doesn’t work on its own. It becomes more an adaptation of Hamlet and it might be hard to appreciate it if one does not know the story of Hamlet.” So I am not sure you will like the second half.
this idea of “aazadi” and though of kashmir as a single country is what anti-nationalism is all about. this is the same as the ideology of khalistan, isnt it? anyway these are my assumptions based on what i hear from you and others. will check this out soon
The Kashmir issue is a very complicated one. Its not a simple case of a state wanting to secede.
The partition of British India was made unfortunately on the basis of religion into a Hindu majority India and a Muslim majority Pakistan. The princely states were told that they can either chose to accede to India or Pakistan or remain independent.
Of these Jammu & Kashmir was a Muslim majority state ruled by a Hindu ruler, Junagadh was a Hindu majority state ruled by a Muslim ruler and Hyderabad was a Hindu majority state ruled by a Muslim ruler.
1) The Muslim ruler of Junagadh signed the Instrument of Accession to Pakistan on Sep 15th, 1947 but the Indian govt did not agree to the accession. They blockaded Junagadh and then took over Junagadh. They conducted a plebiscite where 99% voted to accede to India.
2) The Muslim ruler of Hyderabad wanted to stay independent and signed a standstill agreement with India. The Indian govt did not want a independent Kingdom in the middle of it and conducted Operation Polo or “Police Action” in September 1948 and annexed Hyderabad.
3) The Hindu ruler of Jammu & Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India when Pakistani tribal forces attacked it. India sent its forces and there was a war. India went to UN to resolve the issue. The UN declared that 1) Pakistan should withdraw tribesmen and Pakistani nationals who entered J&K. 2) India should withdraw its forces to the minimum strength required for support of civil law & order. 3) And then a free and impartial plebiscite be held so that the people can decide which country to join.
Here is the UN resolution on Kashmir.
Pakistan never withdrew from the territory it occupied. India never withdrew its forces and a plebiscite was never held.
India now claims that J&K is an integral part of India and that there would be no plebiscite or referendum but Nehru had talked about plebiscite many times. We still have maps of India with the whole J&K as part of India when in reality 1/3rd of J&K has always been under Pakistani control. And Pakistan has given a part of it to China and there is also a part called Aksai Chin which is disputed with China. Pakistan wants the whole of Kashmir and they support militants in the Indian part of Kashmir and are always calling for plebiscite or 3rd party mediation.
Here is a link which talks about all the possible scenarios for the future of J&K and some group or another has an issue with every scenario.
thanks for this information sputnik.
You are welcome.
Very good review Sputnik. My views about this movie are as below;
Haider is one of the brilliant piece of Hindi Cinema. “Bismill” Song is one of the most energetic and spine chilling song in Hindi cinema. Fantastic Choreography and the best performance from Shahid till date. There is a decline of pace in Second half but it is compensated by means of brilliant performances from every cast that has definitely set very high standards of performances. The Salman characters are laugh riot even though they have very small role, they left the impact and it seems like Vishal Bharadwaj was trying to show that Kashmiri’s love Salman Khan 😉 The direction in first half is legendary (for a hindi cinema) and Cinematography, background score are fabulous. Some scenes are very violent and no doubt it cleared the Censorship after so many cuts.
On the other hand, I do find it anti military and anti govt film and was surprised to know that it was not banned in India. Not sure how true the movie is in depicting the life of Kashmiri’s but it does put thoughts into peoples mind and they will try to connect the dots with rumors heard or partial information or misleading information they had or gained prior to the movie with this movie and form their own opinion. Now whether it is anti-national or not, I can’t comment because I don’t have a clear Picture of what is happening in Kashmir other than what Media shows.
Thanks @fearlesssoul Glad you liked the movie too.
The movie is set in 1995 when insurgency was supposed to be at its peak. So not sure if what is shown in the movie is reflective of today’s Kashmir. A relative of mine had worked in Jammu/Kashmir in the 90s and I had once asked him about whether the people of Kashmir support India or Pakistan and he told me that they publicly pretend to support India but in private they are anti-India. I once met a student from Kashmir back in 2003 but did not get a chance to speak much about Kashmir.
The movie is co written by Basharat Peer who is a Kashmiri journalist who has written a memoir Curfewed Night.
Here is an article which talks about Curfewed Night.
“Basharat peer’s Curfewed Night is a cry from the heart that needs to be heard and heeded. It is a cry, moreover, on behalf of the people of the Kashmir Valley who have been caught, for nearly two decades, in the crossfire between the Pakistan-backed militants, indigenous as well as foreign, on the one hand, and the security forces that must take on the merchants of death and terror, on the other. Peer is a young Kashmiri Muslim and his narrative is in the form of a memoir of his childhood, his village, his days in school, his family and the people at large for whom life has been hell because of violence, crackdowns and relatively frequent oppression. The main merit of Peer’s lucid and eminently readable work is its restraint and moderation even where he describes events that are grim and gory.
In his early 30s, Peer is a journalist who worked for some years in Delhi and is now based in New York where this book was written. Peer never joined those Kashmiri youth who went across the Line of Control (LoC) for training in Pakistani military camps but he has written vividly about those who did, including many who surrendered and gave up arms and “are now dreaming of discotheques in their villages”. Incidentally, as a schoolboy, he and his classmates did approach a uniformed and armed JKLF “commander” with the request that they wanted to join his ranks. Laughingly, he told them to “go home and grow up, kids”. To keep him away from trouble, Peer’s father, an officer in the state government, sent him to Aligarh Muslim University from where the young man shifted to Delhi. But, apparently, the call of Kashmir was too strong for him to resist. So one morning he gave up his job and went “home in search of the stories and the people that had haunted him”.
A lot of what Peer says about the acts and excesses of the army and paramilitary forces is chilling beyond words. For instance, he writes of the night when the security forces fired on a wedding procession and the “bride was raped” by “rampaging BSF men”. In another horrifying incident, the army is accused of picking up two young boys, and after “strapping landmines on their bodies” sent them to confront “a group of armed militants holed up in a house”. There are also references to various “massacres”. But, to his credit, Peer is never one-sided in his account.
For example, he writes: “In the winter of 1990 Srinagar was the city of protests, the city of massacres. Militants joined the Indian forces in a display of brutality. Mushir-ul-Hasan, the vice-chancellor of the Kashmir University, was kidnapped and killed…. Prominent Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims seen as siding with India were the next targets. On May 21, 1990 militants from Hizbul Mujadeen, the pro-Pakistan militant group, assassinated the head priest of Srinagar, Maulvi Farooq…. Paramilitary forces fired at the slain priest’s funeral procession. Bullets pierced the coffin; pallbearers and mourners fell. A hundred were slain. Their blood-soaked shoes lay on the road after their bodies were carried away. People forgot the head priest’s assassination; anger rose against India.… The firing on the mourners and the image of their blood-soaked shoes found their way into poetry and paintings.”
Peer was a schoolboy when Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of the Valley to rot till today in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. Seeing the empty benches where his Pandit classmates used to sit, he discovered that along with killing hundreds of pro-India Muslims, ranging from activists to suspected informants of Indian Intelligence, the militants had killed hundreds of Pandits “on similar grounds, or without a reason”.
At the time of Maulvi Farooq’s assassination, Peer was 13. On returning to the Valley several years later, he recorded: “I heard and remembered stories of brutality, courage, love, faith, loss or even hope. Both Kashmir and I had changed. The heady, rebellious Kashmir I left as a teenager was now a land of brutalized, exhausted and uncertain people.… The conflict might leave the streets, but it might not leave the soul.”
Army leaders, serving and retired, who, in their interaction with me, have often complained that their officers and men are being maligned even on charges that have been proved to be false would be well-advised to read Peer’s book. For Khushwant Singh is entirely right in describing it as “beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful”.”
This review is by a retired army officer.
One Haider is not enough
New Delhi, Oct. 5 (ANI): I no longer don the uniform. But I did once, in the year the recently released movie Haider is set. And in the same place, the Kashmir Valley. I may have been young then, and Haider may be a work of fiction, but I did come across many characters Vishal Bhardwaj and Basharat Peer have crafted for the movie. More significantly, I was a part of the environment the movie is set in, and may have even shaped it in my own little way.
First the movie. I have watched Haider and it is political. It is neither a documentary nor is it a propaganda film. The political undertones are subtle at most places but the movie sporadically erupts into making overtly political statements: disappeared people, half-widows, unmarked graves, AFSPA, the army’s creation of counterinsurgent group, Ikhwaan and perhaps the most controversial of them all, the torture scenes.
To anyone who has read Basharat Peer (author of Curfewed Night) or other “Kashmiri” writers, this should not come as a surprise. It is the standard viewpoint of middle-class, educated young men from Srinagar who came of age in the early 1990s, when the militancy was at its peak in the state. The movie stays true to that political viewpoint and captures many truths of that period. But it is not the complete truth. To think that this movie tells you everything you need to know about Kashmir would be fallacious. We will perhaps need another half a dozen movies just to scratch the surface of the many truths of Kashmir.
As per reports, the movie was given a U/A certificate after 41 cuts by the Censor Board. It would be fascinating to see what those cuts were, because I fear that they perhaps gave the movie the political correctness it ends up with.
The movie starts with a caption “Srinagar, India 1995”. To use “Srinagar, India” and not “Srinagar, Kashmir” the way other Bollywood movies (like Roja) have done was a significant statement to make even before the movie started. The ending, where the protagonist ends up forsaking revenge to terminate the unending cycle of violence — and the nods to the futility of revenge earlier during the movie — seem almost contrived. As if the censors wouldn’t pass the movie if it didn’t end with the politically correct message. To be or not to be.
Of course, no Indian movie can have Indian Army as the villain and so the movie ends up depicting the pro-India counterinsurgency group, Ikhwaan as the evil guys. That’s the closest — by proxy — Peer and Bhardwaj could have come to showing India and Indian Army as being the bad guys. Subtle but well done and par for the course for a political movie. So what was the truth about Ikhwaan-ul-Muslimoon?
Everything the movie says about Ikhwaan is perhaps true. The group was supported by the Indian Army and operated alongside it. It countered terror with terror of its own against Pakistan-backed terrorists and their over ground supporters. Ikhwaanis illegally felled timber and sold it (Koka Parray acknowledged that in an interview to Harinder Baweja of India Today in 1995), extorted money from shopkeepers, street vendors and even bus-passengers at checkpoints it established. It also probably did things much worse than that. After all, these Ikhwaanis had been trained in Pakistan, had operated as terrorists and knew how to fleece the Kashmiris for personal benefits.
Why did Indian Army prop up Ikhwaanis under Koka Parray? Koka Parray was a folk-singer from Hajan who was trained in PoK and later surrendered after being with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Till 1994, he was a small-time informer for the infantry battalion at Manasbal, who gained such prominence by 1995 that he was being courted by top military commanders and politicians. Koka Parray was a prized asset not only because he could do the dirty job for the army, but because he was the only one to provide a breakthrough in a war India seems to be losing — or at best, not winning — in Kashmir.
Ikhwaanis provided intelligence, intimate local knowledge and understanding of the militant tactics which the army didn’t possess. The success was immediate and reflected in the parliamentary elections of 1996. Most people forget that even Farooq Abdullah had boycotted the 1996 Lok Sabha polls, anticipating that they will be a stunning failure. The ‘success’ of 1996 Lok Sabha polls encouraged Dr. Abdullah to participate in the 1996 Vidhan Sabha elections, which led to resumption of the political process and Kashmir’s slow march towards normalcy.
What was India like in early 1990s? It was still recovering from the economic crisis and politically, it was in great turmoil. Babri Masjid had been demolished by the Sangh Parivar, Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated by the LTTE, Mandal Commission had opened cleavages in the society, militancy was still at its peak in Punjab, and serious charges of corruption (from Harshad Mehta and payment to JMM MPs to Urea Scam) were levelled against PM Narasimha Rao.
Internationally, the Cold War had ended with the disintegration of India’s strategic ally, the USSR. Pakistan had been at the forefront of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the world’s sole superpower owed Pakistan a few favours. So much so that Robin Raphael, First Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs under President Clinton, was actively supporting Kashmiri separatism and helped form the Hurriyat as a political face of the Pakistan-fuelled militancy in Kashmir. In those pre 9/11 days, there was no global consensus against Islamist terror. India felt under siege, both at home and abroad. It is in these circumstances that the Indian establishment took to Ikhwaan as a tactical succour. And however loathe we might be to acknowledge it today, the coming in of Ikhwaanis turned the tide in India’s favour. It was not the best option but as anyone who has served in counterinsurgency knows, there are no good options in counterinsurgency. You always choose the least bad option and perhaps Ikhwaan was the least bad option at that time.
It must be reiterated though that whether due to Kashmiri politics or due to Indian apathy, the Ikhwaanis were soon marginalised and ceased to exist, both as a counterinsurgent group and as a political force in the Valley. Praveen Swami’s obituary in Frontline magazine of Koka Parray after his killing by two Hizbul terrorists in 2003 adequately captures the decline of Ikhwaan in the state. That reinforces my belief that Ikhwaan wasn’t a strategic choice exercised by the Indian Army but only a tactical ploy to overcome a very difficult situation at a specific time. Weren’t Petraeus and other American generals hailed for doing the same in Iraq?
On AFSPA, even if we concede that the law was needed at the peak of militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s, there is no reason for it to still be applied to urban areas of Kashmir at the current levels of violence. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has cogently made the case but to little avail. Let’s hope the new, unfearing government at the Centre will have the courage to take that bold step and send a message to Kashmir which its predecessor governments failed to do.
The interrogation centre in Haider is called Mama-2, a clever nod to the now-mythologised interrogation centre called Papa-2 in Srinagar. But the movie gets it wrong. Papa stands not for father but for the phonetic word associated with letter P; if it started with letter M, the place would be called Mike and not Mama. Frivolities aside, Papa-2 was run by BSF — not the army though it got intelligence ascertained from militants detained there — and closed down in 1996. Did torture happen in Papa-2 or in other detentions by the security forces?
There is no reason to believe that it didn’t happen but such incidents (as those of ‘fake encounters’) came down dramatically after the 1996 assembly elections. It is something which ideally shouldn’t have happened but when people are sucked in the vortex of an ugly conflict, ugly things happen. The question of justice for those who suffered in that conflict — innocents, militants, sympathisers, security force personnel, Kashmiri Pandits, families — is a vexed one. Should it be “retributive” justice or “restorative” justice advocated by Mandela in South Africa? Can time heal all the wounds? If so, how much more time do we need? These are complex questions in any conflict and in case of Kashmir, almost impossible to find simple answers to.
For all his craftsmanship, Vishal Bhardwaj makes some silly errors in the movie which I couldn’t fail to notice. The yellow table tennis balls, used by a young Haider and his father in a flashback scene, came into use much later. White balls were used during the period of the movie. The soldiers move around with INSAS rifles in the movie set in 1995 when these weapons were introduced only in 1997. The vehicles used by the Indian Army in 1995 were not the ones soldiers use in the movie. The stars on the collar dogs for Brigadiers and above were introduced in 2000s and a Brigadier (portrayed by Ashish Vidyarthi in the film) couldn’t have worn them in 1995. Indian Army didn’t have a RPG-7 in its inventory and the RL-84 Rocket launchers that it used never set buildings to fire. They just drilled holes through the walls.
Often, houses where militants were holed in were set to fire by the soldiers as a matter of last resort by late evening to prevent escape of militants under the cover of darkness. At times, explosives were used by soldiers in daring moves to blast such houses. Of course, grenades never cause fire in such high intensity but that is a problem of depiction with Hollywood too. Suicide vests, using Chinese grenades, might be a cinematic device used here because suicide bombing and fidayeen attacks started a couple of years after 1995 when HuM, HuA and LeT became dominant players in the terror game in Kashmir. And yes, Srinagar was no way as clean and tidy then as shown in the movie. It was a dark, dirty, gloomy place which is unimaginable now.
These nitpickings aside, Haider is a movie we should welcome whole-heartedly. More than the quality and the message of the movie, the fact that such a political movie can be made and released in this country is something we should be justifiably proud of. Let a thousand more Haiders bloom.
A retired army officer, the author served in the Kashmir Valley from 1994 to 1997. The views expressed are personal(ANI)
‘Kashmir is the Hamlet of my film,’ says Vishal Bhardwaj on Haider
Haider is your third adaption of a Shakespearean tragedy, after Maqbool and Omkara. Where does Shakespeare end and Vishal Bhardwaj take over?
I don’t really know how to answer this. Haider is an extension of what I have attempted in Maqbool and Omkara. Haider doesn’t begin like he (Shakespeare) begins his play. I’ve turned his third act into the first act. As a filmmaker, I wanted to make Hamlet in Kashmir. In my film, in a way, Kashmir becomes Hamlet.
What was it about Kashmir that made you set your Hamlet there?
It was the political turmoil and the 25 years of tragedy of Kashmir that compelled me. Our way of looking at Kashmir has either been cosmetic — only for shooting songs — or rhetoric, where we show a man in a phiran, holding a Kalashnikov. Haider is the first film where we see Kashmir from the inside. I don’t think we have made a mainstream film about the issue. If this was Europe, we would have made 200 films on Kashmir. Hollywood is still making films on the Nazi era. Every year, there is a film on World War I. Now, they are telling stories of Iraq, even television has Homeland. They have a take on “human conflicts” lekin hum log toh chori se baaz nahin aaye hain (but we have still not gotten over the theme of theft). Hum abhi bhi thieves ki filmein bana rahe hain (We are still making films about thieves). The human conflict in Kashmir drew me. I’ve set Haider in 1995, when militancy was at its peak. I wanted to observe the human tragedy that a regular middle-class family went through. What happened to the families that didn’t move away? What happened to the mother who was a teacher, the father who was a doctor, the uncle who was a lawyer? Till now, we have heard points of view from this side or that side. We know the two extremes but the tension is always in the middle — what about the people hanging between the two extremes of the rope?
How did the collaboration with journalist-author Basharat Peer, who co-wrote Haider, work out?
My wife, Rekha, was reading Basharat’s memoir, Curfewed Night. One night, I saw her crying while reading it. She said, “Hila diya mujhe iss book ne (This book shook me).” I had just returned from the US and was severely jetlagged, so I didn’t read the book. But Hamlet was very much on my mind. In fact, I was developing the play as a contemporary espionage thriller with author Stephen Alter. We wrote a 30-page synopsis, which I sent to Gulzarsaab to read. He liked it, but asked me, “Where is the tragedy of Hamlet in this thriller?” He was right. What more could I tell about a RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent? How much do we really know about the real life of an agent? The Official Secrets Act is so stringent that it’s tough to tell an authentic account of a RAW agent. I was heartbroken, but Hamlet was still on my mind. That’s when I remembered Basharat’s book. I contacted him and we started work. The authentic feel in Haider is because of him. There are so many little things in the film which only an insider could bring in. If Basharat was not a part of the film, it wouldn’t be made or it wouldn’t be made this way.
You worked with Tabu after a decade since Maqbool. Is it easy for a director and actor to pick up the chemistry from where they left it?
There is always chemistry between people. The actor-director equation comes in later. If the friendship remains, then you can take it from where you left. Tabu se mere jhagde bhi bahut huye… saalon baat bhi nahin hui… par phir ek din baat shuru ho gayi. Hamari dosti aisi hai. (Tabu and I had a lot of fights… we didn’t speak to each other for years… but then one day we started talking again. Our friendship is such). With some people you just work professionally, like Saif (Ali Khan) — I did Omkara with him and that’s about it. With Tabu and Irrfan, it’s friendship.
But do you ever miss working with a particular actor? Like Gulzarsaab once told me that he missed working with Sanjeev Kumar.
I miss Priyanka Chopra, both as an actor and as a person. When we work together, it feels as if main apne school ke bachpan ke kissi dost ke saath kaam kar raha hoon (I am working with one of my childhood friends from school). I also miss Irrfan, whose sense of cinema is at another level. Sometimes, an actor takes a performance to another level, and as a director you miss him the most.
Which actor surprised you the most?
Pankajji (Kapur). He took Abbaji’s role in Maqbool to another level. The small gestures he added to his performance, the little things he did, the way he got Abbaji’s walk, he stunned me. Pankajji is the kind of actor who takes from your work, adds his own brilliance to it and shows how great your work is.
How do you strike a balance between writing, directing, producing, composing and singing? What do you enjoy the most?
I’m always shifting gears in my head. I’m thinking about something or the other all the time. I enjoy my music the most. It gives me peace and is my greatest love.
Do you start composing while writing a film or after you have written it?
It begins during the writing. In Omkara, all the songs were composed while writing the script. There is no regimented process of how I make music. Mere saare gaane yunhi chalte phirte bante hain (All my songs are composed just like that). Sometimes, they are made because I want to use them cinematically at a crucial moment in a film, like the lullaby Jag jaa ri gudiya in Omkara, which Omkara sings to wake his wife up. I knew that he would sing it again during the climax, so I needed to compose a lullaby. In Haider, I needed the grave-diggers song, so I made Aao naa. I wrote some lines, but Gulzarsaab only retained Aao naa and changed the rest. You’ll be surprised to know that Gulzarsaab and I have never composed a song, sitting at a place. All our songs have been written and composed at airports or in cars. Most of the times, he is standing in a queue saying the lines, while I sing it back to him on the phone. I will never forget how we made Ibn-e-batuta for Ishqiya. We were standing in a long queue waiting to board a flight. By the time we got to the bus, we had the mukhada ready. Inside the plane, we made the antara, and by the time we landed, we had the entire song.
Which song has been the toughest to compose for you?
That would be Haider’s Bismil. It took over four months to compose. I recorded it in Srinagar, Mumbai and London, but I couldn’t get what I wanted. This is ‘The Mousetrap’ (the play within the play) of Hamlet. This is when Haider re-enacts the murder, but I had to do that while retaining the poetic flavour. It was tough.
How do you sustain your creativity?
By taking as many trips to Landour (near Mussoorie) as I can. Once I’m in Landour, I don’t do anything. I just walk and meet Ruskin (Bond). I want to shift there permanently. Now, there is no compulsion to work from Mumbai because all you need is a computer to work from anywhere.
How do you view your growth as a filmmaker?
I’ve learnt how to convey without words. Earlier, my films were too verbose. In Haider, I have used a lot of silence. I even keep my background music minimalistic.
Is there a filmmaking rule you have had to unlearn?
In filmmaking, less is more. The more you try to explain, the more you mess it up.
If you were to throw a dinner party and invite five of your favourite characters, who all would you call?
Maqbool’s Abbaji, 7 Khoon Maaf’s Susanna, Kaminey’s Guddu, the witch from Makdee and Omkara. I can already see Abbaji and Omkara coordinating and planning something. I can see the witch and Susanna sizing each other up.
Do you follow the work of your contemporaries? Do you have any favourites?
I don’t keep a track of anyone as such, but some of the recent films that I loved are Ship of Theseus, Dibakar Banerjee’s short film Star in Bombay Talkies and The Lunchbox. I also really liked Dibakar’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! as well as Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday and Dev.D. Anurag really surprised me with Dev.D. When he first told me he wanted to do a modern adaptation of Devdas, I tried to talk him out of it.
To me, Devdas’s is a boring story. What does this guy do the entire day? Just drink and cry? That’s boring.
What would your Devdas be like?
My character would become a gangster in love and not sulk in booze.
You have so many scripts ready. Some of those were announced, too, but never took off. Do you have any plans to revisit them?
Jo filmein bante bante reh jaati hain (The films that never get made), they are your unhealed wounds. They don’t bother you when you are occupied with other things, but when you are alone, they pinch you. Out of all my earlier scripts, I would love to make Barf and Dream Sequence.
So Jao Song from Haider. Liked the song – great lyrics by Gulzar and good picturization.
I also Liked the song on repeat hearing.
At first I didn’t like it much and thought of lil show off kind of song(trying to be offbeat deliberately).
But on repeat hearing I liked the song particularly the voice of singers and use of guitar. The sound of shovels digging catches your attention.
Song has a feel of mystic and depression or frustration, like after a lot of frustration you just want to sleep (die).
To me lyrics was average to me, may be I have set really high standard for Gulzar.
Picturization was good particularly when Camera goes on top.
Also the scene is very well used in the Trailer.
I can understand many thinking ” show off kind of song(trying to be offbeat deliberately)” or Vishal being self indulgent but the song is based on the Gravediggers song from Hamlet.
I loved the lyrics.
Arre Aao Na, Ke Jaan Gayi, Jahaan Gaya, So Jao
Arre Aao Na, Ke Thak Gayi, Hai Zindagi, So Jao
Na Shaam Na Savera, Andhera Hi Andhera
Hai Roohon Ka Basera, So Jao…
Specially these lines below.
Chhota Na Bada, Koi Lamba Hai Na Bauna Hai
Kabaron Ke Tadabon Mein, Lambi Neend Sona Hai
Na Bistar Hai Na Bori, Na Paan Na Gilauri
Farishton Ki Lori, So Jao
Arre Aao Na, Ke Jaan Gayi, Jahaan Gaya, So Jao
Arre Aao Na, Ke Thak Gayi, Hai Zindagi, So Jao
That’s full song sputnik 🙂
Gravediggers song is also like that or the lyrics of hindi song is different?
I initially find Music arrangement show off kinda.. Idk what you understood from my comment.
Yeah that’s why I added “Specially these lines below.” for the second para 🙂
I also liked the “voice of singers and the sound of shovels digging” like you did.
I thought you felt the picturization was show off.
No the gravediggers song lyrics are completely different.
Shahid holding up a skull from the grave is also from Hamlet.
One of the best things about VB is that he does not get carried away to include a song in the movie just because it is good. For example I lived OMkara title song and espcially the last stranza “chhat par aa ke Giddh baithe ..aur parnalo se Khoon bahe” . The whole song was part of a fight scene and played in background and he cut the song halfway.
I had tried to watch Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, Helena Bonham Carter back in 2000 or so and did not like it. It was shot like a stage play. I think I may have stopped watching after an hour or so.
Vishal Bhardwaj said he saw the Mel Gibson version along with some other versions before making Haider.
Jhelum Song from Haider. Had mentioned in my review that “The song Jhelum sung by Vishal Bhardwaj is picturized very well. ”
Actually some of the songs in the movie do not have picturization. All the songs are on loop from the time when they have released.
So I have seen picturization of the songs which are in the movie.
Coming to Jhelum- song is picturized well. And lyrics and music setting is good or very good. it start similar to Bekaran(Both had the sound of river).
I didn’t like the pronunciation of Vishal of word “Jhelum.” and also didn’t like the part where he says “lahu lahu”..
Best song to me is AAJ ke Naam.. But This whole album is very good.
Yeah I found his pronunciation of the word “Jhelum” odd too. He was pronouncing it as “Jaehlum”. Not sure how it is pronounced in Kashmir.
Agree with you on his pronounciation of Lahu. He was singing it as “Lohu Lohu”.
Aaj Ka Naam was good too and the lyrics are very good. Its written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Funny that this guy thinks the movie is pro India and has a problem with it when BJP fans felt that it was anti India and wanted to #BoycottHaider. And his objection “a half-mother is sexually attracted to her son is unacceptable.” is LOL.
For someone whose bio says “a student of Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution” he has an issue with Haider’s “absurd and vague message of peace”.
Condescending & unjust , ‘Haider’ distorts the reality of Kashmir conflict
Basharat Ali October 03, 2014
The music transports you to a new world. The lyrics are nothing short of mesmerizing. Narration is menacingly gripping. Cinematography is cruelly catchy. It is overwhelming. It keeps you glued. It is Kashmir. The paint of red on the carpet of white hushes you. The blood and snow have such intimacy. The love making inside the trunk of a tree in a snow covered field can only make one envy Kashmir.
That’s it. This is what makes Indian reviewers go gaga about Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet.
But political movies ought to be looked at differently. Bollywood movies on Kashmir have been and should be probed properly. Every single thing matters, even the military jackboots of gravediggers who turn out to be militants.
Set in 1995 (opens as: 1995 Srinagar India) in the trouble torn, militarized and insurgency-ridden Valley of Kashmir, Haider provides a half-peep to the non-Kashmiri audience into the streets of Shehr-e-Khass, which is repeatedly called as ‘downtown’ in the movie.
That is problem number one. For a long time, the Indian state has been trying to change the architectural landscape of Kashmir according to its imagination. A village in Budgam known as Satharan is renamed as Sita Haran, marketing the theorem that Goddess Sita was actually abducted by Ravana from that village. In one particular scene, a house in Shehr-e-Khass is shown as manned by gunmen, giving an impression that this place is a world inhabited by militants. The two Salmans look at Haider (played by Shahid Kapoor) walk across the bridge in fear. Here, Vishal Bhardwaj endorses the Indian appropriation of Kashmir, making Bollywood only a tool of the state, a part of the larger paraphernalia.
Problem number two. The moment any Army man opens his mouth, he sounds typically Kashmiri, perhaps telling us that Indian Army in Kashmir is mainly the people of Kashmir. Also, before the encounters start, the Army calls out militants to surrender, essentially saying that Indian law will give you (militant) a chance. Then they enter a house without a human shield. Any Kashmiri who has lived an encounter or a crackdown will summarily reject such representation. The mukbir (Army informer) identifies in a manner shown in the movie, but not from such a close distance. The vocabulary of Kashmiris is not that bad. Shrada Kapoor (playing a journalist, Arshia) and KK Menon (playing advocate Khurram, uncle of Haider) try to sound Kashmiri in speaking English. Perhaps, Vishal Bharadwaj hasn’t heard Shahana Butt, a Kashmiri journalist, report for Press TV. But Basharat Peer must have and he also has had long conversations with Khurram Pervez.
Problem number three. Khurram in Haider may not be Khurram Parvez, the dogged human rights activist and coordinator of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, because the former is not a lawyer but most of the disappearance-related cases come to him. In Haider, Khurram is a stooge and a careerist. He uses the human rights bogey to contest elections and wins it. The representation of a lawyer in Haider is a condescending insinuation and must be challenged.
Problem number four. Bhardwaj is attempting a balancing act but fails in doing that. There is no antagonist. The problem lies in Kashmiris seeking inteqaam. The first dialogue that indicts the Indian state is neutralized by the very next. One character says the fight is for freedom, the other says its revenge, which eventually is the dominating message from the movie. Haider of Hamlet set in the political context of Kashmir is an appropriation of the struggle for freedom of historical proportions. Earlier Bollywood movies like LoC Kargil and Maa Tujey Salaam would indict Pakistan. Haider does that too, but mainly puts the culpability of crisis on the people of Kashmir for seeking revenge.
Problem number five. After the first encounter in which Dr Hilal’s (Haider’s father) house is razed down to rubble, a scene common in almost all encounters in Kashmir, the Indian Army disappears, never to be seen in the movie again, leaving the local police and renegades (Ikhwanis) to deal with militants. This is partly good and partly bad representation.
Army is the only representation of Indian state in Kashmir. It inflicts colossal damages on the people and then leaves ‘the wretched of the earth’ at the mercy of police and other state agencies. That is done to break the will to fight, to make people feel helpless. The problem in such a representation is that it pits Kashmiris against Kashmiris, thereby completely vindicating the stand of the movie and the Indian state.
In 2008, after the Amarnath land row, it was the people of Kashmir against the local police which resulted in more than a hundred deaths, mostly of young men. Since then, Army has taken a different role and police has become an apparent villain.
Problem number six. Vishal Bhardwaj deserves appreciation for his bravery. Half-widows have not been a subject of discourse in Indian mainstream for a long time. He brings them to the notice, but again with many flaws. Just because Hamlet demands it, Gazala, played brilliantly by Tabu, becomes a half-widow as a result of her husband’s brother’s lust. That’s grossly unfair. This is no secret that disappearances in Kashmir are a result of how Indian state has sought to neutralize the sentiment of freedom by eliminating hundreds of Kashmiris by force. In Haider, Khurram does so by deceit. In Kashmir they do so as a state-scripted policy. Also, that a half-mother is sexually attracted to her son is unacceptable.
Politically, from a Kashmiri perspective, Haider is another disappointment. In fact, it is a disaster. But such disappointments and disasters are expected. We are used to them. Mostly revolving around the doctrine of human rights, which is not entirely wrong but potentially dangerous, Vishal Bhardwaj engages with almost all aspects of life in Kashmir, but he miserably fails in exploring them. From AFSPA to UN resolutions, from half-widows to mass graves and from elections to collaborators, Haider feigns subtlety, but ends in vagueness. Therefore, Haider is more problematic than other conventional Bollywood movies. It twists the narrative and ends with an absurd and vague message of peace.
What Haider is showing us is no different from what many Indians acknowledge now. There has been a shift from the integral part rhetoric to one where they admit that the human rights violations have taken place in Kashmir but then go on to add that Azadi that Kashmiris demand has flaws and is not a viable solution. Hence, they talk about reconciliation as the best thing to resort to. The struggle for which lakhs of sacrifices have been made is not for being equal participants in the Indian state and its democracy. The movie reduces a people’s fight for right to self-determination into a problem of human rights abuse which, I repeat, is dangerous. Haider is no extraordinary movie about Kashmir. It uses Kashmir as an embellished wallpaper to push forth a narrative that is Indian in all respects and nowhere close to the reality of Kashmir. The agenda is to vindicate the war crimes of Indian Army in Kashmir which becomes obvious from the last messages.
It says: “In the recent floods, the Indian Army saved thousands of Kashmiris” and they need to be appreciated for that.
There you go.
The last word
Basharat Peer knows it is not about inteqam (revenge) in Kashmir. It is an unending war, yet he appears to have made compromises which are sure to disappoint many young Kashmiris. When he stands outside his house, numb and lifeless, he best represents a Kashmiri. But the moment one sees him as a co-script writer, it becomes a bitter pill to swallow.
Basharat Ali is a student of Conflict Analysis and Peace Building at Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He writes on the contemporary politics of Kashmir and blogs at http://www.basharatalisays.wordpress.com. Reach him at email@example.com
Finally saw haider. Has a slow pace throughout and a grim atmosphere. What i had heard about the movie wasnt true completely .I was told that the film is anti-national and anti-indian army. But its actually pro-terrorism. I dont understand though why VB had to set this film in kashmir? Is it because he wanted to get attention out of the controversial scenes about the Indian amry?Its an adaptation of hamlet. he could have set the film anywhere. The indian army has been painted pitch black as if they are the militants and the militants are the good guys who get framed! I understand that there are cases of innocent ppl tortured sometimes but that doesnt mean you make a film which is this misguided in its heart. There is a scene in the film where tabu finds a revolver in the bag of shahids school bag. why not explore the seed of this instead?
Shahid was ok. There is one monologue scene he has in front of a crowd where he is rushing through his dialgues as if waiting to hear “cut” from VB to get a pat on his back for memorising the dialgues properly.Tabu without make-up looked like a man and she plays a loose character. kay kay menon character is quite transparent . he was fine. The romantic track of shahid-shradha is overlong and uninteresting and can be skipped. Songs are slow except bismil which had a good picturisation but some of the choreography was like the warmup of shaolin kungfu. Aao na song is one of the most pretentious song picturisations where some gravediggers are lipsyncing while digging. This is a typical VB movie with pretentiousness galore.and at the end they add a note thanking the army for saving J/K ppl during the recent floods. bahut ehsaan kar diya bhai
Tabu who is one of the most important characters in the movie is not happy when her husband brings that militant home to operate on. She fights with Shahid when he brings a gun home and sends him away to stop him from becoming a militant. And she tries to stop him in the end too. The dialogues Kulbhushan says are repeated by Tabu to Haider that revenge is not the answer and that he can only be free without revenge. And in the end he does not take revenge on his uncle who is the villain which is what the movie and the original Hamlet is all about. If it was pro terrorism some Indian army guy would have been villain and Haider would have become a militant and killed him.
“The indian army has been painted pitch black as if they are the militants and the militants are the good guys who get framed!”
If Vishal wanted to paint Indian army pitch black he could have shown Haider’s father as some innocent doctor who did not even bring home a militant. He could have shown that Haider is tortured when he is held on suspicion and not released for a long time too. There have been allegations of gang rapes and allegations of burning a large number of houses in response to ambush attacks too against the Indian army which Vishal has not shown in the movie.
There were militants in the movie and he did not show that they had been framed and that’s why they turned into militants which so many movies have done in Bollywood. He did not show any back stories or focus much on the militants. The militants have been involved in kidnapping and also murdering Indian govt officers, Kashmiri Pandits and also Kashmiri Muslims suspected of being informers or for being not Islamic enough according to them. Wish Vishal had shown that.
Here is a link to a book by Asia Watch from 1991 which lists all the allegations against the Indian Army as well as the militants.
“There is one monologue scene he has in front of a crowd where he is rushing through his dialgues as if waiting to hear “cut” from VB to get a pat on his back for memorising the dialgues properly.”
LOL That was one of the best scenes of the movie and Shahid was excellent in that scene. He was acting like a mad man which is what Hamlet acts like in the original.
“Tabu without make-up looked like a man and she plays a loose character.”
hmm… she gave a brilliant performance and you are talking about her looking like a man? I think she looked fine for the role. Her character is based on Gertrude from the original who marries Hamlet’s uncle. And the incestuous undertones between Hamlet and his mother have been discussed in popular culture a lot and this was far more subtle than what it was in the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet.
“The romantic track of shahid-shradha is overlong and uninteresting and can be skipped.”
Agree on that. The movie could have skipped that part completely.
“Aao na song is one of the most pretentious song picturisations where some gravediggers are lipsyncing while digging.”
This is what I said about the song Aao Na in a comment above. ‘I can understand many thinking ” show off kind of song(trying to be offbeat deliberately)” or Vishal being self indulgent but the song is based on the Gravediggers song from Hamlet.’
I found the movie decent but I have issues with film politics. There are two narratives in the movie; one hamlet one and other at directors convenience showing politics at different stages. The army is not shown in good light. There are many villains but only Army is the culprit and in some scenes it is more emphasized: 1. The soldier throwing father’s picture. 2. Army major asking to demolish the house which he could have done at start itself. Both these scenes were very filmy and could have been done slightly different.
It talks about AFSPA but it doesn’t tell why it is needed. Army can not arrest or detain people. It needs special power to do police job in civilian areas. The situation has been grim in Kashmir for sometime.
It talks about Widows and half-Widows by army illegal detention of innocent civilians but it doesn’t talk the same about militants killed unidentified fighting with army or crossing border.
When you give sweeping control to any outfit, there are some illegal things bound to happen. There is need for oversight but to paint/give impression that it is happening at alarming rate is wrong.
“There are two narratives in the movie; one hamlet one and other at directors convenience showing politics at different stages.”
Agree about that. That’s why I said in my review that
“The adaptation of Hamlet to the political backdrop of Kashmir works excellently in the first half of the movie. The movie works on its own even if one has no idea of it being adapted from Hamlet. Its the second half of the movie that doesn’t work on its own. It becomes more an adaptation of Hamlet and it might be hard to appreciate it if one does not know the story of Hamlet.”
I think Vishal should have just let the 2nd half follow the story set in Kashmir and not try to adapt Hamlet in the 2nd half. That way it would have been like taking the basic idea of Hamlet and making a completely different movie. But Vishal probably wanted to hide behind the Hamlet adaptation for fear of it becoming more controversial and getting banned.
“The army is not shown in good light. There are many villains but only Army is the culprit and in some scenes it is more emphasized:”
I did not get the impression that only army is the culprit because the main villains were others.
“2. Army major asking to demolish the house which he could have done at start itself. Both these scenes were very filmy and could have been done slightly different.”
Yes bringing the father and demolishing the house before him looked filmy. I did not know that they demolish militant’s houses. I initially thought the demolition of miltant’s houses happened only in West Bank and Vishal used it for effect.
“It talks about AFSPA but it doesn’t tell why it is needed. Army can not arrest or detain people. It needs special power to do police job in civilian areas. The situation has been grim in Kashmir for sometime.”
“5. Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.”
If the law is followed and the arrested person is given to the nearest police station then there should not be any disappeared persons and half-Widows.
“6. Protection to person acting under Act.—No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.”
This blanket immunity is an issue. When a few bad guys are protected instead of being prosecuted it causes resentment among people and they view all army as bad and they turn even more separatist.
“it doesn’t talk the same about militants killed unidentified fighting with army or crossing border.”
Yes the movie is not balanced which I find odd because the writer Basharat Peer’s book Curfewed Night is supposed to have also talked about atrocities by militants. As I said in my other comment above Vishal should have shown militants killing innocent people too. I think we need more movies on Kashmir – one from the Indian Army POV on the lines of The Hurt Locker or Platoon and one on Kashmiri Pandits.
“There is need for oversight but to paint/give impression that it is happening at alarming rate is wrong.”
The UN has called for removal of AFSPA and a lot of people including Iron Sharmila have been protesting against it.
Fighting against militants in a urban area where the locals may be tacitly or directly supporting the militants is never going to be easy.
William Dalrymple here talks about the the Gowkadal bridge massacre of civilians by CRPF, rape of a Mubina Gani a bride by BSF men (two constables were sentenced), torture centers Papa 1/Papa 2 and mentions “Elected Kashmiri governments being dismissed by New Delhi” and “shameless rigging of the 1987 local elections”.
He says that “brutality of the security forces had comprehensively radicalized the normally apolitical Kashmiris and turned a small-scale insurgency into a genuine popular movement.”
“I did not get the impression that only army is the culprit because the main villains were others. ”
There are two narratives. First narrative villain are regular Bollywood type. The second narrative the villain is Army. It is not shown all and all black but any discerning person will gauge.
There are more than half million soldiers in Kashmir. The atrocities as percentage is statistically insignificant. They do happen. It has happened when US occupied Iraq or any other army occupation. It happens when regular police is doing law and order. Govt. job is to have mechanism so that such incidences are mitigated.
And I thought it was duplicitous of Bhardwaj to insert army comment at the end.
“It is not shown all and all black”
That’s what I am saying but I think people are being very sensitive about it.
“There are more than half million soldiers in Kashmir. The atrocities as percentage is statistically insignificant. They do happen. It has happened when US occupied Iraq or any other army occupation. It happens when regular police is doing law and order. Govt. job is to have mechanism so that such incidences are mitigated.”
But the problem is that Pakistan and separatist organizations will use every instance of atrocity for brainwashing more young people into becoming militants.
“And I thought it was duplicitous of Bhardwaj to insert army comment at the end.”
May be he needed to insert that comment to have his movie not get banned.
“She fights with Shahid when he brings a gun home and sends him away to stop him from becoming a militant.”
what does she doto stop him? send him to aligarh and its done! why not show why a young kashmiri carries a gun in his bag ? will anyone question this trend?
When i read your review, i thought there is an elaborate incest angle but there is just one scene in the beginning which suggest that
“why not show why a young kashmiri carries a gun in his bag ?”
Then the movie would have needed even more anti Indian army and pro terrorism scenes. Young kids usually get influenced and try to copy what the elders around are doing.
This is about Basharat Peer, the screenplay writer’s book Curfewed Night and he has written about being in awe of militants carrying their AK-47.
“As he narrates, the year 1989 ushered in the rise of the rebellious youth who were tempted to cross over the border for guerilla training that would be used to counter the hegemony of the Indian State and win back their fast eroding autonomy. Peer gives a clear revelation of Kashmir’s Muslim leanings and the hurtful past and present that motivates the Kashmiri to even back the Pakistan cricket team: “Grandma sat facing Mecca on a prayer mat, seeking divine help for the Pakistan team.” Peer himself had “a sense of alienation and resentment most Kashmiri Muslims felt against Indian rule.” The deep-seated desire of the people was to push Indians out. The hostile feelings in the youth are clear : “One afternoon we were on the football field when a militant passed by. Even our snooty games teacher went up to him, smiled, and shook hands. The militant took off his loose pheran and showed us his gun. ‘We call it Kalashnikov and the Indians call it AK-47,’ the militant said. We clapped. From then on we all carried our cricket bats inside our pherans, in imitation and preparation.””
And he himself was sent to Aligarh and that part has been incorporated in Haider.
“With young militants being born daily, Peer’s parents sent him to a school in Aligarh.”
While Vishal may have made it filmy with Haider returning home with a gun in his bag I find it completely reasonable that parents would make their children go study in a safer place rather than stay in a place where there is a chance of them getting into bad company and becoming a militant.
you are misunderstanding my statement. when i say ““why not show why a young kashmiri carries a gun in his bag ?”” i dont mean that i want to see any justification of terrorism. there is no justification for such things. What i wanted vishal to explore here was what is being taught to these young kids in kashmir that they lap up to weapons so early in life. who are the ppl who misguide them and how do they do it. this was shown well in black friday.
Based on timeline (movie is set in 1995, that scene would have been much earlier) I think Militancy was in very nascent stage. Haider belonged to decent family, I think there was no reason for him to pick up gun at that stage.
Don’t know what age Haider is supposed to be in the movie. I don’t remember if he are told if he is doing Bachelors/Masters/Ph.D but there is some talk about him doing thesis on Revolutionary Poets of British India.
And I could not figure out what age Haider is supposed to be when he brings the gun home.
But based on Basharat Peer saying “1989 ushered in the rise of the rebellious youth who were tempted to cross over the border for guerilla training” may be its supposed to be 1989. Don’t know what year he talks about when he is talking about being in awe of a militant with a AK-47.
“Haider belonged to decent family, I think there was no reason for him to pick up gun at that stage.”
Yeah but the movie did not show how he got the gun or why he was hiding it.
“Yeah but the movie did not show how he got the gun or why he was hiding it.”
thats the main problem of the movie.
“I dont understand though why VB had to set this film in kashmir? Is it because he wanted to get attention out of the controversial scenes about the Indian amry?Its an adaptation of hamlet. he could have set the film anywhere.”
Vishal answered this in his interview.
“‘Kashmir is the Hamlet of my film,’ says Vishal Bhardwaj on Haider
As a filmmaker, I wanted to make Hamlet in Kashmir. In my film, in a way, Kashmir becomes Hamlet.
What was it about Kashmir that made you set your Hamlet there?
It was the political turmoil and the 25 years of tragedy of Kashmir that compelled me. Our way of looking at Kashmir has either been cosmetic — only for shooting songs — or rhetoric, where we show a man in a phiran, holding a Kalashnikov. Haider is the first film where we see Kashmir from the inside. I don’t think we have made a mainstream film about the issue. If this was Europe, we would have made 200 films on Kashmir. Hollywood is still making films on the Nazi era. Every year, there is a film on World War I. Now, they are telling stories of Iraq, even television has Homeland. They have a take on “human conflicts” lekin hum log toh chori se baaz nahin aaye hain (but we have still not gotten over the theme of theft). Hum abhi bhi thieves ki filmein bana rahe hain (We are still making films about thieves). The human conflict in Kashmir drew me. I’ve set Haider in 1995, when militancy was at its peak. I wanted to observe the human tragedy that a regular middle-class family went through. What happened to the families that didn’t move away? What happened to the mother who was a teacher, the father who was a doctor, the uncle who was a lawyer? Till now, we have heard points of view from this side or that side. We know the two extremes but the tension is always in the middle — what about the people hanging between the two extremes of the rope?
How did the collaboration with journalist-author Basharat Peer, who co-wrote Haider, work out?
My wife, Rekha, was reading Basharat’s memoir, Curfewed Night. One night, I saw her crying while reading it. She said, “Hila diya mujhe iss book ne (This book shook me).” I had just returned from the US and was severely jetlagged, so I didn’t read the book. But Hamlet was very much on my mind. In fact, I was developing the play as a contemporary espionage thriller with author Stephen Alter. We wrote a 30-page synopsis, which I sent to Gulzarsaab to read. He liked it, but asked me, “Where is the tragedy of Hamlet in this thriller?” He was right. What more could I tell about a RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent? How much do we really know about the real life of an agent? The Official Secrets Act is so stringent that it’s tough to tell an authentic account of a RAW agent. I was heartbroken, but Hamlet was still on my mind. That’s when I remembered Basharat’s book. I contacted him and we started work. The authentic feel in Haider is because of him. There are so many little things in the film which only an insider could bring in. If Basharat was not a part of the film, it wouldn’t be made or it wouldn’t be made this way.”
“Our way of looking at Kashmir has either been cosmetic — only for shooting songs — or rhetoric, where we show a man in a phiran, holding a Kalashnikov.”
in his case he did both.
Haider’s convenient half-truths and some inconvenient answers
“I watched the movie without shedding any tears. My tears seem to have dried up or so I thought. But when the film ended and I read an odd line of gratitude to Indian soldiers for helping during the recent floods, I could hold it no longer and wept copious tears at what I thought was an attempt to add insult to the injury. In the movie, the Indian army is the villain, it has no humane face, no valiant stories that the director could think of incorporating. But in the end credits, he thinks about thanking the Army as an afterthought, for helping during floods. That is when I could no longer control my tears at the hypocrisy of it all and lopsided political world view of Vishal Bhardawaj and Basharat Peer.”
The article starts with excerpts from former Jammu and Kashmir governor Jagmohan’s book and this same Jagmohan is considered as a villain by Kashmiris and as the person responsible for turning all Kashmiris into anti India.
” JANUARY 21, 1990, was when Kashmir witnessed its first massacre, one that gave birth to generation of angry young men, a violent uprising and a militant separatist sentiment never seen before in the Valley.
People in the Valley allege that jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) opened indiscrimnate fire on thousands of peaceful demonstrators near Gaw Kadal in downtown Srinagar. The official figure for fatal casaulities was 21. But when the bodies were counted in the Police Control Room, it climbed to 50.
THE massacre happened just a day after the Centre appointed Jagmohan as J-K Governor in a bid to control the mass protests by Kashmiris. ”
Here is another article which says the same thing and this is not by a Indian or a Pakistani.
“After the international press published what had happened at the Gowkadal bridge, all foreign correspondents were banned from Kashmir for several months. When we were allowed to return in May, it quickly became clear that the brutality of the security forces had comprehensively radicalized the normally apolitical Kashmiris and turned a small-scale insurgency into a genuine popular movement.”
Even Jagmohan’s own advisor blames him.
“However, while adapting Hamlet; Bhardwaj seems to have had no doubts. There are no grey areas for him. The Indian State is the evil. The Indian Army is the occupational force and all terrorists are innocent folk who would rather quote Faiz than kill or plot against India.”
So according to this Haider should have turned into a militant and started killing the Indian army but he doesn’t.
“Not for Bhardwaj are many fascinating stories of rescue and bravery by the forces. Not for Bhardwaj are the gut-wrenching stories of soldiers from Chennai, to Manipur to Haryana serving in Kashmir, where every square inch of land is hostile.”
Did all these people criticize Roja or Mission Kashmir for not being balanced in showing torture or atrocities by Indian army? I don’t remember Roja/MK even talking about half widows or torture or Kashmiri Pandits. I think this is getting silly. One movie can never capture everything about Kashmir. Someone or other will have an issue as to why this massacre or that ethnic cleansing or rape or rescue operation was not shown. Even if Vishal had made a movie on Kashmir from 1948 some would have complained that why did he not start from the earliest mention of Kashmir in history.
“Not for Bhardwaj is the story of Kashmir which is the most subsidized state of the Indian Union and which enjoys the special status that no other state does. Bhardwaj also does not seem to be interested in providing any backdrop to the armed insurgency in Kashmir. It seems to have escaped him that Kashmir was never annexed by India and therefore the Indian Army is not an occupational force nor does he seem to have understood the civilizational connect India has with Kashmir which happens to be as old as the history of Indian civilization.”
This is the Indian non Kashmiri POV but the movie is from a Kashmiri POV who do seem to see India as an occupying power.
If Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded to India before the Pakistani tribal forces had attacked it and if people of J&K had voted to be with India in a plebiscite then there would have been no need for any special status for Kashmir. Kashmir would have been a regular state just like any other state and Kashmiris would have no excuse/grudge for their wishes not being taken into consideration.
The writer is basically saying VB was biased in showing only the Muslim side of the story and not showing the Hindu side of it but she can’t see her own hypocrisy. There is not a single line where she even admits that the Indian army did anything remotely wrong.
Here is a review by Ashwani Mishra who says he is “I am pro-Azaadi, ro-resistance and anti-Indian occupation.” and he has issues too.
“Let’s talk about Inteqaam for a bit. Through the Hamlet narrative, there is an unabashed shaming of militancy as revenge here. There is a subliminal message that Kashmiris should forget about vengeance and the whole hold-hands-and-sing-we-are-the-world message that some “liberals” push. Fair enough. That is a legitimate point of view, I guess. But here is where it gets really problematic. There is more than one kind of “Inteqaam” in Kashmir. There is also the “Inteqaam” of Indian forces who react to militant attacks on their facilities by attacking Kashmiris who often had nothing to do with the attack. Like the Sopore massacre of ’93 where a BSF van was attacked and in return, Sopore was set ablaze by the Indian forces. Much like the US invasion of Iraq, these were acts of vengeance against people who had nothing to do with the cause of the vengeance in the first place. This film has nothing to say about that “Inteqaam”. One has to be very wary of these vague “pro-peace” messages. Especially when they seem to put the onus of the violence on the oppressed and not the oppressor. When it is purported that it is the resistance movement and not the occupying forces whose “inteqaam” is the cause of all the misery.” See, the Indian intelligentsia has moved on. No longer can the convenient rhetoric of Roja as mastered by Mani Ratnam work with them. So now, you must placate them with some token mentions of human rights violations but ultimately bring it back to “Violence is not the way”. Whenever people say violence is not the way, what they often mean is “Violence is not the way (unless you are the state)”.
He has an issue with the thanks to Indian army for saving lives in floods but for a different reason.
“Also, the “Indian Army has saved thousands of lives in floods and we salute them” did not help. Why not also mention that separatist leaders had also saved lives? ”
So there will always be people who will say why did you not show this or that. And they are going to view Haider through their own biased lens.
Actually Jagmohan was ruthless. Under communist pressure he was removed from Governorship of JK by VP Singh. If he was allowed we may have a different Kashmir. You may not agree with his methods but he was knew how to bring order similar to KPS Gill.
Vaishno Devi was mess and he cleaned it and made it easy for people to go.
Even the link you gave blames Jagmohan.
“In January 1990, Jagmohan, already unpopular because he was seen as party to New Delhi’s dismissal of an earlier elected government, was once again appointed governor.47 Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest. Governor’s rule was imposed, putting New Delhi into direct confrontation with the Kashmiri rebels.”
““Through those months, journalists, both Indian and foreign, reported on havoc Jagmohan’s policies were wreaking on the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. Going back to those reports, the year 1990 seems to me the year of the written forewarnings that were never heeded.””
He may have been a good civic administrator when it comes to Vaishno Devi but doesn’t mean that he was/will be good at handling insurgency too. Targeting militants is one thing but shooting at peaceful protesters becomes completely indefensible.
“You may not agree with his methods but he was knew how to bring order similar to KPS Gill.”
The link says “Indian security agencies responded with unprecedented brutality to quell the rebellion” but it did not work. So because something worked in Punjab does not mean it will work everywhere. And there are allegations of human rights violations against KPS Gill too.
It also says “The Indian army and other state forces carried out large numbers of summary executions, custodial killings, torture, “disappearances,” and arbitrary detentions. Security operations included regular warrantless searches, usually in the middle of the night, and after grenade and sniper attacks by militants upon security posts, security guards would storm the neighborhood nearby, setting fire to buildings, and randomly beating up residents.”. And Vishal is being criticized for portraying the Indian army as bad when he showed only some of that.
He was recalled very quickly under pressure from Communist. There are multiple errors and mostly politicians are to blamed for the situation.
Some timeline and history:
Vishal Bhardwaj: I’m not anti- national, but I’ll comment on what’s anti-human
Anshul Chaturvedi, TNN | Sep 30, 2014, 12.00AM IST
After you finished Haider, and started the phase of promotions, three Kashmir-centric events of a fairly high visibility happened. One, the floods, and the relief operations, within which you had episodes such as Yasin Malik’s asking people to not take the Army’s help. Two, Bilawal Bhutto declaring that he would “take Kashmir back” – yet again proving that the easiest way for a politician to trend online is to make one grand declaration on Kashmir. Thirdly, Nawaz Sharif and Modi speak at the UN General Assembly and the usual expected statements on plebiscite and exported terror are exchanged. Kashmir perspectives tend to be very fixed – ‘traitors’, ‘motherland’, ‘terror’, ‘brutality’, ‘saviours’, and such catchphrases start playing in all debates. How do you view or consume these developments differently after having spent this much time understanding the Kashmir story?
Actually, it’s important to see it in its reality. What I have attempted to do is observe the life of a common family in Srinagar. And my film is set in a period, in 1995, when militancy was it at its peak. What a middle class family in Kashmir goes through in a time of conflict. How a family that doesn’t belong to either side, that wants to live a normal life, how that family gets sucked into all this is my story. Politics is a backdrop, a very strong backdrop, but finally I am exploring the story of a family. Mujhe jo lagta hai, ki jo abhi tak hamari filmein mostly Kashmir pe bani hain, humnein almost always baahar se jaa kar dekha hai. We haven’t seen it from the other side. What is the viewpoint of the people who have lived over there, what they have gone through – that has not been taken up. Sometimes we see it from the view of an intelligence officer, sometimes from the viewpoint of a journalist, sometimes it could be the story of a South Indian lady who is attempting to find her husband. That is the way the filmmaker likes to access what he thinks he can actually be closest to. I did not want to do that. Which is why I hadn’t taken this up earlier, even though I’d wanted to make a movie on Kashmir for many years.
Because it’s a conflicted state. It is a human tragedy. And a filmmaker is always interested in reflecting the times he lives in. For the past 25 years, I have grown up in the shadow of these conflicts – first Punjab and then Kashmir. Punjab finally stabilized, and perhaps people expected Kashmir to, as well, and there is a thought ki militancy ki age hoti hai, 10 years, it will finish. But it has been more than 20 years and the militancy in Kashmir is not finishing. I read the book by Basharat Peer, his memoirs of growing up in the 90s, and I found a lot of insight in that. So I took him up as my co-writer, we adapted Hamlet to that, and that’s how my Kashmir film finally came into being.
Suppose you were called to take part in a TV debate on Kashmir, and asked to comment on local people being asked to boycott help from the Army by the likes of Yasin Malik amid very heated opinions. What would you say?
I don’t think these questions were there in the first two or three days when the situation was really bad. They began to come up later. When things are really tough, I don’t think it is about who is an Army man and who is a separatist. It is about the basic value of human life and of saving that life. I think that sort of debate is an afterthought. I am not sure of who said what, but I think it was an afterthought, that question. In reverse, I remember seeing TV and Mirwaiz Umar was on TV and they were somewhere in Kashmir University, I think, and they were saying we need more boats. And at that time I think it was very insensitive on the part of a journalist who asked Mirwaiz, now do you feel gratitude towards the Army? I mean, what a time to ask that! Isn’t it insensitive for us to ask that? Dekhiye hum aap ke liye kitna kar rahe hain. Aap unko apna maante hai na? Phir ehsaan jataane ki zaroorat kyun? And the thing is that the Army, which is actually doing the work, is not making a show of doing a favour. The Army has blinders – it keeps out of politics, does its work and goes back. Problem shuru hoti hai when politics enters areas such as flood relief and then the media tries to sensationalize things. These are times to win people over, not score points. And from what I have seen, there is a lot of respect for the Army there, it has done a lot of work.
You are setting the story in 1995, and you are shooting in Kashmir for that story in 2014 – when it has moved ahead about two decades. How much of a change did you notice from 1995 when you spent time in Kashmir now?
Elections have happened many times since then. Militancy is much lesser than what it was at its peak. And the common Kashmiri is fed up. Their business has been very badly affected amid all this. I think they want to live a normal life – yeh mujhe laga.
When a filmmaker makes a movie where the concept of ‘Hindustan’ has a key role to play, isn’t it easier to make something like a Gadar – no shades of grey, the hero effortlessly uproots handpumps and wins against everyone because he’s a hot-blooded patriot? If a movie, in trying to tell both sides of a story, has shades of being ‘anti-India’, it’s likely to cause angst as well as censor troubles.How do you walk that tightrope? How does a creative individual work his way around the jingoism of the mass audience?
I’m also an Indian, I’m also a patriot, I also love my nation. So I won’t do anything which is anti-national. But what is anti-human, I will definitely comment on it. That is what I have done in the film as well. I am definitely not anti-national, I am only against what is anti-human. I have had not a single objection raised to any scene, any dialogue in my film being cleared (by the CBFC).
Surely you would have expected some objections, given the nature of the topic?
Yeh toh hum assume kar ke chalte hain. Aajkal ki film is the easiest punching bag. Anyone wants publicity, all he has to do is file a PIL against a film. Meri toh koi film release hoti hai toh mujh pe chalees cases hote hain. Jin previous films mein kuch controversial nahi thaa un mein bhi hua, is mein jab release hogi tab pata chalega kitne hote hain!
Are we getting increasingly hyper-touchy and sensitive, or is it that publicity-seeking by slamming cinema is becoming an art form?
Dono hi cheezein hain. A film is the easiest way to gain publicity.
Aren’t societies supposed to get more evolved and mature with time? Why is the reverse happening here?
I really don’t know, but so many basics aren’t taken care of in our system. The begging mafia exists at every traffic light in our country. Isn’t the government aware that most beggars don’t beg for their individual needs but are controlled by a mafia? Isn’t the government aware that if you have to buy a flat, you have to pay 40 to 50% in black? Everyone knows that. What is being done about it? A person like me, if I have to buy a flat, I have money only in white, what do I do? I have to turn my white into black to make the purchase, I have to consult a CA who will tell me how to turn white money into black! Disgusting! Hamara yeh attitude hai na, ki jahaan tak hamara personal kaam nikal raha hai, society gayi tel lene. If giving a hundred rupee bribe gets me a berth to sleep at night in a train, we will all give it, I will also give it. This is part of our psyche. We are getting to be a morally corrupt society. Maybe the next generation will be able to change something, I can’t see it happening very soon. These are just my personal views, though.
You’ve said earlier that “I needed a place with a political conflict” as a setting for this movie. Punjab has also had a bloody and violent phase. Naxalism is today rated as a greater internal security threat than Kashmir. Did it occur to you to place your Hamlet in either of these locations?
Naxal topic tha mere dimaag mein kaafi time tak. Prakash Jha nein in the meantime own kar liya Naxalism ko (laughs). Many movies got made on it. And then the risk is that audiences can begin to respond like “arey yaar ek aur aa gayi”, they can get put off.
You also said that we have not made any mainstream movie on Kashmir in all these years. Isn’t that true of most of our political questions and our political personalities?
We have not made any mainstream movie on Nehru, we have not made any mainstream on Patel – if we did, we would have had to explore the questions of accession, plebiscite, wouldn’t we?
Banane kahaan dete hain, bataiye? Indira Gandhi par nahi banni chahiye film? What a graph! What a beginning, middle, end! Bananey denge? Nahi bananey denge. Phir hoga ki jaise woh chahte hain, waise… Take Nehruji ki story. Kitni colourful life hai, kitni committed life hai. Aadmi swaraj ke liye fight kare toh kya colourful nahi ho sakta? Lekin you can’t make a film like that – yahaan toh laathi utha kar maarne ke liye pehle taiyyar rehte hain!
But even the movies that are made – do our audiences consume them? I recall meeting Laxmi Sehgal in Kanpur when Benegal’s ‘Bose: The Forgotten Hero’ released, to ask her what she thought of her portrayal in the movie. She hadn’t seen it – it wasn’t running in a single theatre in the city! Why don’t movies on political issues or political biographies work here?
See, there’s another side to it. Nobody knew the Tamil actor of Roja – but the film was a huge hit. I don’t think it’s always about whether it is political or not. It has also got to do with the storytelling. Aap mazedaar film banaiye pehle. Is kism ki filmein – yeh laddoo ke andar kadwi dawai chhupa ke dene waali baat hai. Upar se laddoo lagna chahiye. Jaise munh mein poora rakha, jab ab thook bhi nahi sakte – tab…! Woh laddoo toh lagna chahiye na. Agar chamcham nahi hai, chandi ka warq nahi laga hai, toh phir Kanpur mein nahi lagegi film! Mainstream mein reh kar yeh karna is a very difficult task – but that’s the only way to reach people.
Aapki Kashmir ki dawai Shakespeare ke laddoo mein hai?
(Laughs) Ji, main Shakespeare ke kandhe pe rakh kar goli chalata hoon!
What’s the identity crisis a filmmaker like you faces when he has to balance Box Office returns and your sensibilities – how much dawaai, how much laddoo?
These questions come up, in every film. But I don’t do things for others. I make the film for myself. Mujhe kal sharm nahi aani chahiye isko dekhne mein. If I have a doubt about that, that’s when I put a stick out and stop it. And I hope that some others will relate to my sensibility. And there must be enough people who share that sensibility for the producers to come back and put money in my movies. I make myself the audience. If I will look back at something I have done five years down the line aur mujhe sharm aayegi – main woh nahi karta.
Did not know that Basharat Peer, the writer was the actor who played the person who does not want to enter his own house till he is searched.
Nice article about Haider by Shekhar Gupta.
‘Haider’ in the time of hashtag nationalism
This week’s National Interest is about two things I am least qualified to write about: cinema and the insurgency in Kashmir. Cinema, because I have zero knowledge in an area in which India has the second largest number of experts after cricket. Kashmir insurgency, because by the time it peaked, I had become too old, senior and regrettably, but inevitably, too editorial to go out and report. If I am nevertheless persuaded now to wade into the storm over Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider, it is as much a tribute to the mainstreaming of mature political cinema in India as to the growing maturity of our people. A robust campaign has been running in the social media to boycott Haider as it has been condemned as all kinds of awful things-anti-India, anti-Army, anti-Hindu and, even more specifically, anti-Lord Shiva (a key dancing sequence has been shot amid the ruins of the old Martand Temple). Yet, Haider has done quite well, so many people have paid to watch it, defying the boycott calls. It tells you how we are growing up as a society even in these times of illiberal hyper-nationalism and are now more willing to look within and at least acknowledge that there might be another side to a partisan story, however deep a shade of grey it may be. I say this also because just a year ago, another significant political film, Madras Cafe, had commercial and critical success. That, even more than Haider, scripted a story of the Indian Army and intelligence’s failures in Sri Lanka. Sure, there were protests in Tamil Nadu, but it did better than any other political film in that genre, without either Haqeeqat-ising or Border-ising it.
The last two references are to two of the most successful “war” movies in our history. I pick these two also because one was the story of a debacle (1962, Ladakh) and the other of a victory (1971, Longewala). Both had more crucial elements in common. Heroism of the Indian soldier, perfidy, even incompetence, of the adversary and, for the record, a dash of the Deol hyper. Chetan Anand had Dharmendra dying fighting at Rezang La to the heart-wrenching notes of Kaifi Azmi’s “kar chale hum fida jan-o-tan saathiyo…”, J.P. Dutta’s Border, 30 years later, featured Sunny Deol as the victorious Sikh major who could bust a Patton with bare hands.
Haqeeqat, though bold for its times, gave the Army its best defence possible, and cemented the belief that the timidity of Indian leaders and the betrayal of the Chinese were responsible for the defeat, and not our generals. That mythology has survived three generations and is the reason why no government wants to declassify the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report. Dutta’s sillier Border, on the other hand, launched an entirely new fiction, of India’s total military superiority over Pakistan, dovetailed nicely into the Pokharan-II and Kargil fervour which followed, and unleashed a genre of so-called war movies that had either Deol or some pretender similarly pulverising the silly Pakistanis. Until even Indian audiences got tired, and every single post-Kargil film bombed. Partly also because people had already seen that “movie” on news TV, with real soldiers.
Vishal has broken new ground in that Haider is probably the first time mainstream cinema has locked horns creatively with internal conflict, and that too something as polarising as Kashmir. From what I can recollect, the only other attempt in this area was Atma Ram’s 1972 Yeh Gulistan Hamara, starring Dev Anand and Sharmila Tagore and set amid the Naga insurgency. The film was as idiotic as your usual Sunny Deol hyper, and cinema halls got vandalised in Calcutta for running it because it demonised the Chinese! Three decades have passed since Operation Bluestar and the death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and two since the death and burial of the Khalistan insurgency, but Bollywood has pretended it never happened. Except Gulzar’s brave Maachis-even though, having covered that story in detail, I have differences with it, and he lets me argue with him. So are many entitled to disagree with Haider and its treatment of Kashmir. But a ban or boycott, no.
It takes a special Indian filmmaker to explore Kashmir as if the “other” side also had a story. It is, similarly, a compliment to the Indian censors, the Army and, most of all, paying public that Haider has been released in this form, torture chambers and all, and is a commercial success, defying hashtag McCarthyism.
Commercial films carry risk to investments, reputations and physical safety, particularly at a time when blind nationalism has overwhelmed rational, self-questioning patriotism. You have to be a brave and particularly patriotic Indian to explore if the other side, in this case the indigenous Kashmiri, also has a storyline, a point of view or, to flog that much misused word these days, narrative. Watch also how shamelessly cautious even I, with my skin thickened after nearly four decades in journalism, prefer “indigenous” for our Kashmiris rather than Indian. No, I do not mean they are not Indian. But if I called Haider, his father and mother and uncle and girlfriend “Indian” Kashmiris, what would you like me to call their cousins on the other side of the LoC? Pakistani Kashmiris? It is just a small illustration of how complex and sensitive this issue is.
The film has its flourishes. As you would expect from a talent powerhouse that includes, besides Vishal, Gulzar, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and, not to forget, Basharat Peer, who is one of our most talented Kashmiri writers (besides writing the script with Vishal, he also features briefly as the silent Kashmiri, scared to enter even his own home without somebody first checking his antecedents). But the most important one is how each side sees the issue, the Army major who says he knows that Islamabad is also a name for Anantnag but adds, looking over the horizon, “for us, it means only one thing, Pakistan”. Militants, who fight for Pakistan, never mind how many Kashmiri lives are lost. And Kashmiris themselves, crushed “like the grass when two elephants fight”. They are a test case for two viciously contradictory national ideologies, India’s secularism versus Pakistan’s two-nation theory. See also how differently even the state agencies view a militant, from the Army major ordering the blowing up of the Kashmiri doctor’s house rather than storming it because “no militant, dead or alive, is worth more than my soldier’s life”-to the cynical cop who shoots three captured suspects, because “even a dead militant is worth a lakh of rupees”.
Rather than malign the Army, Haider shows it in very fair light. No army likes to fight its own people, and that too for decades. There is no military victory in such a war. The dilemma, on this impossible military, ethical and psychological challenge, is portrayed brilliantly. Interrogation chambers, torture, disappearances, marauding, killer militias raised by the intelligence agencies (remember the infamous Kuka Parray, Ikhwan chieftain?) are well documented. Talking about them now is cathartic for both sides, armed forces and Kashmiris. In a mature and confident democracy, you expect popular culture to create the space for truth-telling and reconciliation. That’s the role Hollywood has played in America, portraying, for example, the pain and dilemma of the American soldier in Vietnam and recently Clint Eastwood’s examination of Iwo Jima from both sides, American and Japanese (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). These haven’t weakened America, or defamed its soldiers.
India has suffered from an excess of the opposite. Even in the hands of someone as talented as my friend Vidhu Vinod Chopra (himself a Kashmiri). His muscularly “patriotic” Mission Kashmir launched a genre that had Kashmiri Muslims proving their “Indian” patriotism by collaborating with the Army. His bubbly Preity Zinta as Sufiya Pervez (remember that silly “Bumbro-Bumbro”) is a fantasy stereotype now challenged by the tragic, confused, sincere but helpless Arshia Lone (Shraddha Kapoor) in Haider.
She leads an ensemble that portrays the dilemma of the Kashmiri, Army soldier, local cop and, ultimately, Indian filmmaker. Kashmir lends itself easily to comparisons with Hamlet and his unending tragedies. Acknowledging these, rather than burying them under propaganda, does credit to a great democracy. Particularly at a time when the military challenge within the Valley is over, there’s been no combat against indigenous Kashmiri militants for a decade, and problems exist only on the LoC and across it.
Postscript: My last reporting visit to Kashmir was in 1990, for India Today. Edward (Ned) Desmond of Time magazine and I set up a visit to the LoC hoping to catch an Army ambush of infiltrators. The Army, home ministry, intelligence agencies were all helping. Naresh Chandra was then home secretary, his brother G.C. “Gary” Saxena (former RAW chief) was now Kashmir governor, and we were all set. We spent several nights in Uri on the LoC waiting, but nothing happened. Till a day after we had left, empty-handed, when the Army carried out a big ambush. One evening at a lonely outpost, Ned asked the commander how he explained India’s case on Kashmir to his soldiers. Were they not confused by rival propaganda, Kashmiri hostility? The officer said, don’t ask me, ask my troops. So we did.
This was a platoon of Grenadiers and our interlocutor, a Gujjar from deep Rajasthan, and still a young jawan yet to earn his first stripe.
“Hum toh kisaan ke bete hain, sir (we are sons of farmers),” he said. “It is no business of ours to check how our forefathers got the land we have inherited. If you want it, either you kill me, or I will kill you. Bahas kya karni hai, sir (what’s the point arguing?)”
The officer smiled. You can see why that conversation endures.
the difference bwteen madras cafe and Haider is that one is an intellectual film and the other is a pseudo-intellectual film
There is nothing pseudo intellectual about Haider. It is an adaptation of Hamlet set in Kashmir. If one doesn’t know Hamlet they will call it pseudo intellectual.
I liked Madras Cafe more because it was fast paced and better edited.
the Aao na song itself is enough to know whats what. madras cafe was fast paced, better edited – agreed but the best thing about it was it never took any sides.it just showed what was there. in the end when john is asked what is your opinion on LTTE chief , he says “I dont kno.one mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist”.
In Hamlet one of the gravediggers sings a song. Vishal used the opportunity to have a good song with excellent lyrics by Gulzar about death and sleeping in a grave forever. What is pseudo intellectual about it? Its like tipping a hat to Shakespeare. You liked Bismil song but it can also be called pseudo intellectual. In Hamlet he does a stage play and here Vishal used the opportunity to have a song.
Madras Cafe was from the POV of a RAW agent and not a Sri Lankan Tamil. Madras Cafe did not go into any detail of the Sri Lankan conflict and what problems the Sri Lankan Tamils faced. If someone made a movie from the Sri Lankan Tamil’s POV than Rajiv Gandhi and Indian/SriLankan armies would be villains.
Yes “one mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist” the same way “one set of people’s army is another set of people’s villain/oppressor”.
Hamlet is a play which used to be performed on stage. it has a ghost character too.(but VB didnt show it , instead he brought roohdar). gravedigging song can pass off if done on a stage but VB was making a film set in real world.In real world, the picturisation of aao na looks out of place and pretentious with gravediggers lipsyncing n dancing.
Madras cafe was from the POV of an indian officer yet when he is asked how LTTE chief was, he doesnt pass a comment on him. instead speaks about both sides.He doesnt take the side of the PM also for that matter. he says ” i just know we could have saved our PM” as a part of his duty as an officer. the film never says whether PM was good or bad.
Even with that Madras cafe was not screened in Tamil Nadu.
The movie did show the PM as very good.
“Even with that Madras cafe was not screened in Tamil Nadu.”
you know how these madrasis are
Nice review. Easily the best movie of the year.
Contrary to some complaints about pace and editing I would have loved extra minutes added when Haider goes mad after knowing his father is dead. The first scene post interval is fantastic(“Azaadi”) but the transformation was bit too quick. I would have liked it to be bit more moody and showing what went into Haider’s mind…
Also, I would have liked VB sticking to Hamlet more instead of taking few diversions – like the Hamlet Ghost meets his GF here , not the 2 kings’s men. Also the Ghost bit of Roohdar lost his mysteriousness a bit in the second half. Also the ending could have been more dark as Hamlet.
In Hamlet, I think the Prince Hamlet does not kill one character and tells him you are alive to tell the story. Here he leaves his Uncle alive instead and even the Prince is alive.
Also the bit when Hamlet/Haider is in dilemma wheather the Ghost is right or his Uncle’s story – and thats why he does the stage act to know their reactions – I feel did the dilemma bit did not come out that well. He seemed to side with Ghost’s story all along here.
This is just nitpicking of a masterpiece..
Agree that Roohdar’s character lost his mysteriousness later. I liked his introduction scene a lot but later on he became just one more character. Actually Shraddha Kapoor’s character is a mix of Ophelia and Horatius who does see the ghost.
Yes in Hamlet Horatius is left alive to tell the story but it also has a Norwegian prince, Fortinbras who comes at the end and becomes the King.
“Also the bit when Hamlet/Haider is in dilemma wheather the Ghost is right or his Uncle’s story – and thats why he does the stage act to know their reactions – I feel did the dilemma bit did not come out that well. He seemed to side with Ghost’s story all along here.”
Yes but from what I read Hamlet hesitates to kill his uncle Claudius in the original too. And people have attributed it to Oedipus complex.
oedipus complex can never be a reason for hamlet to not kill claudius.it can be electra complex
Electra complex is about a woman killing her mother and stepfather for the murder of her father.
This is the Oedipus Complex theory about Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius.
“In Freud’s wake, Jones explains Hamlet’s mysterious procrastination as a consequence of the Oedipus Complex: the son continually postpones the act of revenge because of the impossibly complicated psychodynamic situation in which he finds himself. Though he hates his fratricidal uncle, he nevertheless unconsciously identifies with him—for, having killed Hamlet’s father and married his mother, Claudius has carried out what are Hamlet’s own unconscious wishes. In addition, marriage to Hamlet’s mother gives the uncle the unconscious status of the father—destructive impulses towards whom provoke great anxiety and meet with repression.”
@Baba et al,
The comparison you are doing with Madras Cafe vis-a-vis Haider is ridiculous. because Madras cafe was a film about politics . Haider is about Haider and Tabu(Ghazala). Politics and Kashmir just happen to be the backdrop. Its not the soul of the story. Whereas in Madras Cafe the politics was the soul.
The discussion(or rather the opposition to Haider) I read over here is as ridiculous as a LTTE supporter from TN opposing Madras cafe.
Madras Cafe was more controversial but still was one of the best films of the year. It did hurt more ppl than Haider actually did. Boycotthaider was as stupid as boycotting MC by Tamilians (resident/ non-resident).
I can understand why VB chose Kashmir as a backdrop for Hamlet – but I think this story is not at all about politics unlike Madras Cafe.
 Certain section of tamilians were directly or indirectly affected due to LTTE and Sr-lanka army. In india as well as abroad. Compare this to non-kashmiris in India who wake up only when there is a Kashmir issue raised by xyz politician in his/her speech or so…and are not affected at all in their daily life. These people in states down south of Delhi do not give a fuck about Kashmir issues and it does not affect their life.
Sputnik poster one link which was taking about Madras cafe n haider. I just mentioned what I liked/didn like about those two films. In my first comment on haider, I had mentioned that vb didnt hv to set the film in Kashmir as its just an adaptation of hamlet.
Ok, I get it.
But he set his last 2 adaptations in a different background in India. Maybe Kashmir was a choice of his own – you are right in a way – he could have set it in a different state to make it less controversial…but then, it is what it is. I liked Haider very much despite its loopholes. (and Kashmir background was not one of that. I look at that as just a part of the storytelling)
“he could have set it in a different state to make it less controversial”
The idea was to get into some kind of controversy. thats why kashmir and the army stereotype. no one would come to watch just hamlet. btw was watching this song from holiday. (one of the underrated films of this year). superb song and what a classact by akshay kumar
Vishal already answered as to why he set it in Kashmir which I posted in a comment above.
“You’ve said earlier that “I needed a place with a political conflict” as a setting for this movie. Punjab has also had a bloody and violent phase. Naxalism is today rated as a greater internal security threat than Kashmir. Did it occur to you to place your Hamlet in either of these locations?
Naxal topic tha mere dimaag mein kaafi time tak. Prakash Jha nein in the meantime own kar liya Naxalism ko (laughs). Many movies got made on it. And then the risk is that audiences can begin to respond like “arey yaar ek aur aa gayi”, they can get put off.”
Maachis has already been made on Punjab in the 90s and now the right wingers have a issue with Maachis too. I don’t think Vishal could have bettered Maachis so there is no point in setting it there.
If he had set it in the Northeast then also the movie would have been controversial. But then we also would have problem with the actors playing the northeast people and their speaking Hindi or their accents.
“thats why kashmir and the army stereotype.”
There have been a few movies set in Kashmir – Roja, Mission Kashmir, Lakshya and the army stereotype in Bollywood has always been that of goody goody who never do anything wrong. Its the first time that someone has shown the army in a different light than usual. And Vishal did not show anything that they did not do.
The criticism that Vishal did not show militants atrocities is completely valid. As I said in a comment above “The militants have been involved in kidnapping and also murdering Indian govt officers, Kashmiri Pandits and also Kashmiri Muslims suspected of being informers or for being not Islamic enough according to them. Wish Vishal had shown that.”
” Its the first time that someone has shown the army in a different light than usual. ”
no, it has been shown in many films before from pukar to shaurya.but they were far better balanced films. i dont find any sense in that VB response to choice of kashmir
Pukar showed army in bad light? I don’t remember any such thing. Madhuri has Anil Kapoor court martialed by revealing some secrets. In fact Pukar had uncharacteristically jingoistic dialogues where Anil Kapoor tells Danny that we will wipe out Pakistan in 7 days.
Watch the Danny scene from 44 seconds.
Shaurya was a copy of A Few Good Men and I could not go past a few scenes seeing that non actor Rahul Bose play Tom Cruise’s role and Minisha Lamba play Demi Moore’s role. A Few Good Men was about the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine under the Code Red orders given by a Colonel. I don’t know how balanced it was but did it show Indian army blowing up houses or torturing people or anything about AFSPA under which they are not prosecuted for any crimes?
both pukar and shaurya had certain army members as villians. the response to good-goody stereotype is not in giving a evil-evil stereotype.in shaurya, kay kay menon is the main villian is shown as a jingoistic army guy who hates pakistan and muslim indians including a muslim Indian army man.
@haider, instead of questioning the army, why not question why a normal kashmiri carries a gun in his school bad when nothing has happened to him?
Haider did not show Ashish Vidyarthi who was playing an army general/commander as bad. He was shown defending Indian Army policies and he made valid points about how they do not call the 3 Lakh Kashmiri Pandits who were driven from their homes as disappeared and how the Indian army defended the Kashmiris from the attacking Pakistanis. The Army guy who talks to Shraddha Kapoor was not bad either. So I think this objection that every Indian army guy was portrayed completely bad is wrong. I think a quote from Hamlet fits here – “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” 🙂
“why not question why a normal kashmiri carries a gun in his school bad when nothing has happened to him?”
Someone turning into a militant because something bad personally happened to him is a Bollywood trope. Kids/Youngsters may get influenced by a lot of things – by seeing something bad happening around them or by being brainwashed by someone else or influenced by bad friends or bad hero figures. If Vishal had showed the Gawakadal incident or some Indian army atrocity as the reason why he had a gun it would show the Indian army in even more bad light. The brainwashed militant has been shown in so many movies before.
ashish vidhyarthi was there in haider? 😉
“Someone turning into a militant because something bad personally happened to him is a Bollywood trope”
I think i had made myself very clear the first time i had said this on the thread.you are going into same old difection. i already said i dont want to see any sympathy for terrorists.i want to see how young kids in kashmir are misguided in the name of religion by elders/teachers
Yes he was and he was the good army guy just like there is the odd bad army guy in other movies.
“dont want to see any sympathy for terrorists.i want to see how young kids in kashmir are misguided in the name of religion by elders/teachers”
As you said above “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist”. The innocent guy being brainwashed in the name of religion by elders/teachers has already been shown in so many movies before.
The bottom line is that violence/militancy/terrorism can never get anyone freedom and that’s what the final message was.
Up Close with Haider’s scriptwriter, Basharat Peer
At first glance, journalist and author Basharat Peer may seem an unusual choice for a Bollywood screenplay writer. But not when the filmmaker is Vishal Bhardwaj, one of Hindi cinema’s most luminous talents, and not when the film in question is Haider, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set in Kashmir in the turbulent Nineties.
Peer’s Curfewed Night, a compelling, disquieting memoir of growing up in conflict-torn Kashmir, made him the perfect, if slightly unconventional, choice for the film’s co-scriptwriter. Let’s say it showed chutzpah on Bhardwaj’s part.
Haider recently released to tremendous reviews and an audience reaction which could variously be described as stunned, awed, shaken and saddened. Peer himself has been inundated with messages, mails and phone calls after the film’s release.
When we meet on a hot afternoon over coffee, he appears a bit exhausted, a bit overwhelmed by the huge response. Excerpts from the conversation:
How did you end up collaborating with Vishal Bhardwaj on Haider?
Vishal said he was thinking of adapting Hamlet and setting it in Kashmir. He asked me what I thought of the idea. I thought, ho sakta hai. But I told him, let me read the play. So I read it many times, all the while making notes in the margins. To put the characters in a new setting, to get the dynamics of the place, weave it all together, it needed a lot of reimagining.
Then Vishal and I met in Mumbai, spent a few days together. For almost 12 hours every day, we would discuss everything in detail. He has a small kitchen in his office with a wonderful cook who made the best vegetarian food ever. I’m a hardcore non-vegetarian, but I enjoyed eating the daal and everything else.
Vishal said we should do the storyboarding first, so that’s what we did. We made little cards and went scene by scene, shuffling the scenes sometimes. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, and a performance can go up to four-and-a-half hours. We were not filming the play in any case, but adapting it. Add to it a subject as complicated as Kashmir.
It was a very exciting but very difficult process. We discussed, we argued, we went over every little line – ‘Is this plausible?’ ‘Should we do that?’ – It was a very intense collaboration. I was arguing for some things, he was very keen on some other things. But you have to respect the other person’s point of view.
I learnt a lot from him. He was the filmmaker so he did have the final say. Also, there’s a difference between a literary and a cinematic image. A whole page of commentary in a book can be just a static shot in a film. For me, it was a learning curve. At first, I found it difficult to read a screenplay, then I got used to it after a few days.
I went to Mumbai on several weekends and spent time with Vishal. Then he told me, ‘now go and write’. So I came back to Delhi and worked. I was working with New York Times India Ink that time, which was a crazy job. I would work all day, then come home late at night and work on the script.
I’ve always written in English, so I would do that. Then rewrite it in Hindi. I did multiple revisions. There was also a certain amount of pressure. The script was being written around April-May and Vishal wanted to shoot in Kashmir by autumn, to get the season right for the film.
Also, in a book, it’s just you and your brain. Here, there was the entire infrastructure of Bollywood, the whole political economy of films. You have to think of the audience, many of whom may know nothing about Kashmir. A few thousand people read your book, but here, there’s a mass audience. But I’m quite happy that many images, stories made it to the film.
How are you feeling, now that the film has opened to this massive response?
There’s a constant throb in my head. I have this permanent mild headache. I feel tired. Book launches are easy. This is on another scale altogether.
But I’m very happy that people are watching the film. It’s not as if most people spend their time thinking about Kashmir. These are very conservative times, and at the end of the day, it is the story of a family, of characters who are heroic as well as flawed.
So much is from my own experiences and reportage. I have written about bodies being thrown into the Jhelum… And so Shahid [Kapoor] shows a boatman a photo of his missing father and tells him, when you’re digging the sand, let me know if you find something. Because they used to find body parts in the river.
What is your reaction to people who say that the film ‘vilifes’ the Army?
The film opens with a crackdown. Ask any Armyman and he will tell you that that is exactly what used to happen then, not once, but a thousand times. It’s just that it has been shown on the screen for the first time.
The Army is not in Kashmir to make a tulip garden! But if you bring a degree of realism in a film, it unsettles people. They are like children, who have been shielded from these realities, from the darker parts of the story. Unko jhatka laga. But I have seen those scenes with my own eyes.
In the film, there is a long line of people being scanned by a masked Army officer – I have been in a line like that. I was a class 8 student then. It was a very normal thing in Kashmir those days.
Anything in the public domain is up for criticism. But I expect some considered opinion, including how difficult it is to make a film like this in Mumbai. No film can have everything for everyone. This is not a history of Kashmir or a political manifesto. It is just a film that tries to tell some stories.
After the release of the film, I have heard from so many people… people I haven’t seen in 15 years! The film has made people think of Kashmir in a different way. I don’t expect the world to change in a two-and-a-half hour film. But if it makes you think… that’s enough.
The scene with the child who jumps out of a truck laden with corpses… that too happened. I can footnote the entire film. There is a lot of irrational criticism, people abusing you and calling you names. The reactions are from one extreme to another. But we live in an imperfect world.
One of the triumphs of the film is its incredible casting. The lead actors of course, but even the smaller roles…
Oh yes. Narendra Jha, who plays the doctor – the dignity and the pain he was able to project! Bashir Bhawani who is from the National School of Drama and runs a theatre group in Kashmir, he was wonderful as the gravedigger.
My father was in the government and back then in the ’90s, there were always lines of desperate old men who would come, saying, my son is missing, please do something. ‘Koi na koi sifarish kijiye.’ That’s where the character of the gravedigger came from. You first see him earlier in the film. He was one of those old men who had lost his son. That’s why he became a grave digger.
You wrote the script along with Vishal. So you knew the film. But still, what did you feel when you finally saw it on screen?
When I saw the film, I was looking at those images, those people. I knew them, I knew every frame. Behind every frame, there is a story. It was like re-living that time for me. I felt a lot of sadness. It was painful.
You did a little cameo in the film too..
In the credits, there is a thank you to Akhtar Mohiuddin. He’s a very well-known Kashmiri short story writer. I had translated one of his stories, New Disease. A man is taken to the doctor by his family. The problem is that every time the man comes to a door, any door, he stops. Until he is asked for his ID and searched, he can’t enter. This was the ‘new disease’ in Kashmir.
Vishal got the rights of the story and incorporated it in the film. He asked me to do the cameo of the man. I can say I made my debut with Irrfan Khan! It’s a very powerful scene in the film.
What are you planning to do now?
Right now, I am going away to New York for three months to work on my book. It’s a political travelogue in South Asia, about religion and politics. I’ve been on the road this entire year, researching it.
Fantastic review @ Sputnik.
At last, could see Haider (was in Meghalay for long due to my project work). Loved the movie, specially the first half (simply fantastic).
Cast- A power house. Missing “Shalu ji’s comments here who is Shahid kapoor’s ardent fan. He did marvelous job in the movie. The drawback in the kashmir back ground is tone of the chatracters. None of the characters except few could bring the natural tone of kashmiri people when they speak.
Well, having spent last two summers in kashmir, i know their feelings about Pakistan and India. They hate both and always talk about the period (1995) shown in the film. I have been with almost every class of people there from driver to businessmen to Shikara owners/boatmen. Almost every one have lost one or more member of their family without any reason during that period. Few of them are still waiting for them. Some people have gone to the extent of saying that “kaash ke hame isee Zindegi mein pata chal jaaye ke woh mar chuka hai ya zinda hai”
VB have tried to show only a fraction of reality as compared to the narration of the people of kashmikr.
Overall, the movie is marvelous and bold attempt by VB. Need to see more movies of this type rather than D3, CE or Kick.
I don’t know much about Kashmiri tone/accent but I don’t think Vishal tried to get the Kashmiri tone/accent much except for some English words. And I don’t know how authentic that was.
‘Some people have gone to the extent of saying that “kaash ke hame isee Zindegi mein pata chal jaaye ke woh mar chuka hai ya zinda hai”’
I guess people prefer closure so that they can move on.
Tagging @s to see if she comments here. I guess she must be happy with Shahid’s performance at least.
“I guess people prefer closure so that they can move on” – Yes, it must be that only or else I think it is like living hell if some one do not know where his/her dear has gone under such circumstances.
whatever, the film has terrific hangover, need to see some comedy film to come out of it.
“I don’t know much about Kashmiri tone/accent but I don’t think Vishal tried to get the Kashmiri tone/accent much except for some English words. And I don’t know how authentic that was.”
I had many kashmiri friends during my college days. Their tone/accent is quite different than what is shown in the film. One of the salaman (in the film) has perfect accent. Most of the words are spoken through throat by kashmiris(I dont know how to express that. like some time we say “halaq se awaaz”)
BTW the plebiscite stuff was also used in Fanaa (by tabu during her intro scene)
I think only to an extent KK tried the accent. But yes, he was not consistent.
The stunning actress who dared to age, seduce her son—and confound Bollywood
The mother smiles at her wounded son.
She’s just cradled his flailing head in her arms, held on to him for dear life, held him so tight it feels the world will unravel if she doesn’t. Clutching the top of his head with her hand, she comes closer and kisses his bleeding temple. She pulls away only to come closer, caress his beard, kiss him on his cheek, intimately. Her hands drop to his shoulders as she rubs his mouth with her thumb. Then, she kisses him on the mouth. Quickly, passionately, swiftly. Like she’s done it before.
She lingers devastatingly close to him, daring him to inhale her, breathe her in, but then steps down, as if about to kneel. He looks at her expectantly but she steps away, pushing herself from him, the son virtually exploding with unfulfilled angst.
Like a stick of raw dynamite, that scene from Haider—with that scandalous nearly-kneeling serving as the matchstick on the fuse—is by far the most sexually-charged moment in recent Indian cinema. Any Hamlet adaptation worth its salt must dwell on the Oedipal angle, and director Vishal Bhardwaj isn’t one to shy away from shadowy corners, but it is that fearless, fantastical actress who makes Gertrude come achingly alive, staying true to the spirit of the text and yet evoking our love as viewers.
It’s hard to feel affection toward a black widow spider who leaves bodies strung up in her wake—unless Tabu plays her.
Tabu played Shahid Kapoor’s mother in Haider.
A Bollywood conundrum
Tabu, 43, sits across from me in her office wearing a fiercely fuchsia kurta and a giant smile. She is a Bollywood conundrum, an uninhibited and bold actress who hit that bend in the road a few years before we—we as an industry, as Hindi cinema—started applauding our actresses for being powerful.
Her maturity was timed prematurely, and we have fumbled to come to grips with this gorgeous actress.
Today, we claim to champion boldness in our leading ladies; then, back when she started being edgy, we applauded from afar and handed her consolatory ‘critics’ awards. Her maturity was timed prematurely, shall we say, and we have since fumbled to come to grips with this gorgeous actress. For the most part, we haven’t come up with worthy roles and films, making her an exquisite puzzle-piece somehow out of place and underused, Bollywood’s jigsaw all the poorer for this shortness of vision.
“I always felt films were a big distraction,” she says, talking about her priorities growing up. “And all I wanted to do was stand first in class. And I could never achieve that, because there was always someone smarter. Actually,” she catches herself, “There was always someone better at mathematics, and that’s where I always lost.”
Growing up in Hyderabad, Tabassum Hashmi studied far too rigorously for school exams, enough to upset both her grandmother—a kindergarten teacher for 35 years who hated children getting so rigid and pressured—as well as elder sister Farah, who missed out on their Saturday afternoon movie outings whenever Tabu had a class test coming up and didn’t want to be distracted.
The pretty Farah Naaz devoured movies and drove the family up the wall if she wasn’t taken to see the latest releases, and her path into Bollywood—which began with Yash Chopra’s Faasle—resembles the starry-eyed, dream-paved cliché that results in hundreds of aspirants moving to Mumbai every single day. She shined, she shimmered, she was part of a few hits.
The younger sister, in contrast, had to literally be tempted into cinema.
“It’s such a long story,” Tabu complains when pressed about her past, sighs a theatrically deep sigh, and laughs. “We used to come to Bombay to visit my mum’s brother, who was a cinematographer (Ishan Arya, who shot Garm Hawa). He used to live here and mum used to bring us for our summer holidays, by train, and that was something me and my sister would look forward to the whole year. This was like a foreign country for us.”
Sushma Anand, wife of famed director Vijay Anand (Guide, Teesri Manzil), spotted the girl at a children’s birthday party in Mumbai and thought she should meet Vijay’s brother, Indian superstar Dev Anand, who was looking for someone to play his daughter.
“I was 11 years old, I think… It was a strange, anxious type of nervous excitement. I was in school when they finalised me, so I said I’m not going to stop school. Whenever I come here on holidays etc. we can shoot.” And so they did, Dev Anand shooting Hum Naujawan with Tabu while recommending Farah to Yash Chopra, who liked her immediately.
Their mother Rizwana, a teacher, had no clue who Yash Chopra was when he called her up in Hyderabad on a neighbour’s telephone, but it was soon apparent that this was a life-altering moment. “So my sister and mum came here but I refused to come to Mumbai before I completed my tenth; I was very attached to my school and my teachers. So three years I stayed back in Hyderabad, and I would come for my summer vacation and my winter break. And my sister had signed some 2000 films by then, and become a big star, in those two-three years only. So whenever I used to be on a break, and if it was an outdoor shoot, I’d go along. Like Kashmir I remember going to in 1986, when I was in my tenth standard. Then Goa… Ah, I went to so many places while she was shooting. And after my tenth, I also came and started to live in Bombay.”
At this point, Tabu had different career plans. “I didn’t know what, but I definitely wanted to pursue academics, and travel in order to do that. And at one time I even applied to be an airhostess,” she grins sheepishly. “I applied to Cathay (Pacific Airlines) and I got a call, but then Prem happened and then nothing else ever happened.”
A carrot dangled
When she was around 16, director Shekhar Kapur, who had known Tabu since she was a year old, insisted she act in Boney Kapoor’s production Prem. “I said ‘No Shekhar Uncle, don’t do this, I’ve joined college now.’ And he said ‘Just this one film and I promise I will send you to America for studies, whatever you want to do you do, you just let me know.’”
Thus was the carrot dangled, but after Tabu said yes, Shekhar ended up leaving that project and the film took forever to make. “By which time I got completely involved… Once I started acting there was just no way I could turn back.”
“Movies happened to me completely by accident,” she repeats. “It’s been 25 years. I don’t know if I consciously thought that I have to do this for the rest of my life, but I think it came as a given. When you’re that young and for a long period of time, so focussed on something, you don’t have the mental energy for anything else. You’re so consumed. Wanting to do well, wanting to do better than yourself.”
Polka-dotted scarlet frock
“Ab meri zidd hai banungi teri bride / Warna tere saamne karungi suicide.(Now I will either become your bride, or I will commit suicide.)”
For most of us, our first memory of Tabu remains Vijaypath’s 1994 chartbuster Ruk Ruk Ruk, a bizarrely corny earworm whose video featured the tall girl in a tight red top and jeans surrounded by extras (half dressed as beggars, half as cops) as she tried to win the attention of leading man Ajay Devgan. By the end of the song she’s wearing a polka-dotted scarlet frock (with leggings and socks to match) and surrounded by unlicensed Disney knockoff characters and girls in stripper-cop outfits, proudly declaring herself tastier than a butter roll.
In a week, those polka-dotted frocks—or approximations thereof—were selling at Delhi’s Janpath, the pavement-market first to leap aboard emerging trends. This was instant stardom, no mistake.
“Personally, it was difficult to absorb that kind of fame and popularity,” she says, “but I think I totally went with it. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. And at that age, you’re just wanting to capture the world and be out there and have fun and enjoy the attention and all of that. It was great.”
The turning point
One of the people who spotted the polka-dotted girl giving it her all was legendary writer-director Gulzar, who promptly reached out and offered Tabu a film called Maachis. “I couldn’t believe he offered me that kind of a film when seeing those promos. I wonder what he saw. But like I always say, films are films are films, there is no good-bad segregation.”
It was a decidedly surreal invitation considering just how Tabu viewed Gulzar’s understated arthouse cinema. “I had seen Mausam and one more film of his, and was thinking ‘Wow, yeh to bahut achcha hai, yaar. It’s this easy kind of filmmaking where you wear simple clothes and just, you know, ‘act.’ So simply. It’d be so good to act in a film like that, not work so hard. The shoot would be quick, just in a house or something, no make-up needed, simple dialogues, it’ll all get done smoothly. Haan, one day I’ll have to do a picture like that. Aaram se.’” She laughs uncontrollably at her own naïveté, big disarmingly full-throated peals conjured up out of nowhere, making me long for someone to cast her in a truly uproarious comedy of manners.
Tabu chose to take on decidedly adult content.
“But then there was so much more you could do with a film like that, so far you could take the scene, so much depth you could express. And I think I always wanted to express a deeper emotion. I don’t know if it came easily to me, or if I liked that, or I was good at it. I don’t know what it was but I gravitated towards that. It just felt good. It felt good to be able to express yourself like that. So yeah, I think it was one of the milestones of my life, after which I started taking things seriously,” she says, and laughs again, drily. “I don’t know if I should have taken things that seriously.”
I did whatever role attracted me, and with whoever.
Gulzar frequently cast very mainstream actors—Rekha, Hema Malini, Jeetendra—against type, and he did excellently with Tabu in Maachis, cashing in on her tall build and imposing presence while tapping into her simmering intensity. Here was an actress clearly unafraid to go out on a limb and cloak herself in melancholy, and she made quite an impact doing Priyadarshan’s dark Kaalapani the very same year. “A few people thought these films were risky, but there was always a balance. Because there were so many other films happening. And I would do everything, like I would do Telugu films. I would come to the shooting of Maachis from the shooting of a Telugu film on a beach in Seychelles in a swimsuit and sarong, then shoot Maachis and then go do Virasat. You want to do everything at that age and stage. There are ten thousand other things you want the time for, and you make the time.” Which is why 1996, along with those two films, also saw Tabu in Saajan Chale Sasuraal going full-slapstick opposite Govinda, master of the nonsensical. “I did whatever role attracted me, and with whoever.”
There was no ‘I won’t do this’ at all? “I don’t think so. I couldn’t afford to, also. Paisa bhi kamana tha, na.”
She remembers her critically raved about films fondly, speaking of how director Mahesh Manjrekar would keep writing and rewriting his Astitva, making the actors work from a handwritten script, and how Chandni Bar director Madhur Bhandarkar would literally ask them to switch on “ek aur channel” when he wanted their performances louder. That was a film she insists just got made somehow, reticent to take credit for the fact that she redid all her character’s lines herself to make them less dialogue-y. “I changed the language simply because a character living in those areas, a bar-dancer, will not say ‘mere iss jeevan ka sapna tha’,” she laughs. “I’m just glad it turned out okay and was presented well, and wasn’t reduced to being a sleazy film.”
The tightrope walk between highly commercial cinema and smaller, more critically acclaimed work always demands an excruciatingly fine balance. The idealised one-for-you, one-for-me philosophy of picking movies sees most actors seesaw for a while before landing firmly on one side of the fence they try to straddle. Shah Rukh Khan, for example, tried to do smaller, artier films to offset his huge candyfloss successes (an Oh Darling Yeh Hai India between a Guddu and a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, for example, or a Dil Se to follow Dil Toh Pagal Hai and Duplicate) but ended up the king of the blockbuster, with no time for radical little movies.
Tabu, on the other hand, was an actress taking on decidedly adult content, like Astitva—where she plays a lonely housewife who has an affair with a music teacher—and Chandni Bar, a move that eventually and unfairly saw her commercial offers dry up.
“There are twelve moles on my body,” the gangster’s queen confesses to his right-hand man, “would you like to see each of them?” That line from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Macbeth adaptation, Maqbool, might be one of the sexiest come-ons in Hindi film history. The line itself, while prettily worded, isn’t particularly incredible—and more than a little reminiscent of Rene Russo’s invitation to Mel Gibson to compare scars in Lethal Weapon 3—but the context is audacious and immensely loaded. The empress and the grand vizier walking barefoot to a mosque, her daring him to express his feelings, feelings she has sensed despite him having avoided her gaze dutifully, her calling him out as a wimp, him in denial and then momentarily defiant, and then finally her hurling the line—that line—at him. It is slow-burn torture that culminates in complete verbal decapitation, where she cuts his will off with a sexy suggestion.
On some level, Tabu simply outgrew Hindi cinema.
And it is the delivery—her gradual, calm delivery—that arouses the moment, where she starts off almost coy, then commandingly holds his gaze, and finally, just before finishing her question, cocks her head, like taking a revolver off safety, and delivering the final word. It is astonishing just how much sexiness Tabu musters up here, and how sneakily she hides it early in the scene. This scene, in many ways, encapsulates the essence of Tabu’s tremendous sensuality, how she uses silences like gunpowder and can go from tease to tigress in the blink of a lovely eye.
It is, perhaps, only to be expected that an actress revelling in mature characters and adult themes would find herself displaced in an industry that, until very recently, averted its eyes to look at flowerpots when its characters coupled. On some level, Tabu simply outgrew Hindi cinema.
For me, the one constant through her finer, less hurried performances is the sense of longing Tabu brings to the part, the sheer wistfulness that runs through her characters and their silent moments, be it in Cheeni Kum or The Namesake or the Shakespeare masterworks.
Which makes it absolutely, utterly remarkable that she isn’t a trained actress.
I ask if her decisions as an actress are instinctive, or if she’s always studied acting as a craft, given her academic bent of mind. She’s puzzled by the very suggestion. I try again, urging her to delve into her process, as compared to actors from the theatre, say, who have a different level of self-awareness. “Actually on the job seekhne ke jaisa hai yeh. And that self-awareness also I think it builds slowly, slowly, slowly. Like I said, working with talented people, studying your own work, learning what you prioritise as an actor and a character. That makes you realise how you should apply yourself.”
She’s is rightfully proud of her most applauded work, of Maachis and Chandni Bar and the National Awards she won for each, and the four Filmfare Critics Awards for Best Actress (Virasat, Hu Tu Tu, Astitva, Cheeni Kum), not to mention the Bhardwaj movies. “I was doing those films with complete involvement and complete surrender to the roles and the characters, and that in itself was a success for me. I liked these characters because they were so layered and they had so much to say, they had so many feelings and emotions and I could play them in so many ways, you know? These were my own personal journeys, that’s why they are so close to me,” she says, before opening her eyes intensely wide and dropping her voice an octave. “And because they’re mine; my characters are mine. What an actor does in front of the camera is solely only theirs, because it’s their journey, na? Nobody’s with you while you’re giving that shot. It’s your process.”
We talk about Haider, about the film I feel contains her best performance yet.
She takes the praise gracefully, smiling as if nothing she’s ever done has been a big deal, and I veer her toward that scandalous, amazing Haider scene described at the start of this piece. She reveals behind-the-scenes details, that it took only two takes, and what the script said. “It was written that ‘she kisses his forehead, then the cheeks, then the lips.’ Aise line likhi thi, but of course you can’t be so… (literal) about just the written line, na? And the emotion has built up to that place through the film, and there is such a strangely strong, ajeeb kind of a relationship that you see the mother and son having, more from the mother’s side because she’s so obsessively possessive about the son. And that was her moment, and I felt like she wanted to stretch that, keep looking at him and… I don’t know, that was the most natural way I could think of doing it.”
But what if Vishal had done a Pedro Almodovar and gone far more explicit in that very moment?
She loved working with the confidence that Bhardwaj knew what he was doing, that he would present things tastefully. It works better without being even more explicit, she feels, because you keep wanting more. “And then it’s in your own mind, you can make up your imagination about their relationship.” Not being explicit also helps in keeping the focus on the story. “Exactly. Otherwise everyone would keep talking about the shock of what happened between mother and son. And you don’t want that, you don’t want to take the conversation away from what matters. The film is not about that. But I think because it exists at some subliminal level, it adds one more dimension. I think it had an… impact.”
But what if, I wonder aloud, Vishal had done a Pedro Almodovar and gone far more explicit in that very moment? What if this was Y Tu Mama Tambien? Would she have gone for it?
She stays silent for a fair bit. “I’m just thinking,” she says, eager for me to know she isn’t stalling for time. “I’m just thinking of the possibilities. It depends.” Her brow furrows as I insist on finding where she’d draw the line. “Oh,” she says, voice conspiratorially breathy, “We couldn’t have shown mother and son… smooching.” Tabu breaks the moment with one of her giant, infectious laughs, and laughs for a while before looking up, eyes eagerly agleam. That actress—whose chosen name itself means the forbidden—is curious. “Could we?”
After Shahid Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan to team up with Vishal Bharadwaj?
Imam removed after ‘Haider’ role, sends legal notice to Vishal Bharadwaj
An Imam, who appeared in a small role in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kashmir-set film ‘Haider’, has been sacked by the management committee of the mosque over a marriage scene.
Ghulam Hassan Shah claimed he was tricked into performing the ‘nikah’ scene in the Bollywood film and has now sent a legal notice to Bhardwaj, also the producer of the movie, demanding an apology and Rs 50 lakh in compensation.
Shah, a resident of Qazigund in Anantnag district, had been leading the prayers at a mosque in Nowhatta area of the city for the past eight years.
“The management committee of the mosque sacked me… I was tricked as I was told that the footage will be used for educational purposes. I did not know that it was being used in the movie,” Shah told PTI today.
The 65-year-old man has engaged a lawyer and sent a legal notice to Bhardwaj. “You had told my client that the footage of the nikah reading ceremony would be used for educational purposes. But you really intended to utilise the footage for ‘Haider’, which to the least is obnoxious,” Shah’s lawyer Firdous Ahmad said in the notice.
The notice asks Bhardwaj, 49, to publish an apology in the “national press on at least three occasions if the facts stated in the legal notice are accurate”.
The notice also demands Bhardwaj to pay Rs 50 lakh in damages to Shah.
‘Haider’, starring Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Hamlet’, is set amidst the early days of militancy in Kashmir. The film hit theatres on October 2 last year.
Saif Ali Khan Confirms Vishal Bhardwaj’s Next With Shahid Kapoor
After playing Ishwar ‘Langda’ Tyagi in 2006 crime drama film Omkara, actor Saif Ali Khan is “excited” to return in a Vishal Bhardwaj film, in which he will star alongside Shahid Kapoor.
The 44-year-old, who was in Delhi for a mobile launch, denied speculations that the untitled project is based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear.
“Yes, I’m working with him. I don’t know the script, but I don’t think its ‘King Lear’. It’s something else, so I’m excited to be working with him again. I think we do really good work together,” Saif told IANS.
The film will mark the first time he will be working with his wife Kareena Kapoor Khan’s former beau Shahid.
Asked about his future projects, Saif said he has also signed on to work with Sujoy Ghosh and Vikramaditya Motwane.
“These are the three films (including the one with Mr Bhardwaj) that I’m looking at the moment,” he added.
Meanwhile, Saif will next be seen in Phantom, which also stars Katrina Kaif. The upcoming counter terrorism drama film has wrapped up shooting and is all set to release on August 28.
Tabu and Shahid deserved the National Awards more than Kangana.
Masand’s column on Tabu being overlooked for the National Awards.
Echoing a sentiment expressed by many cinephiles when the National Awards overlooked Tabu’s riveting performance in Haider recently, Irrfan Khan has said he finds it hard to take any Indian awards seriously. Pointing out that Tabu’s conflicted portrayal of Haider’s mother was the glue that bound Vishal Bhardwaj’s film together, Irrfan has said that award juries ought to acknowledge actors “who bring something new and original and unique” to their films.
It’s no secret that Irrfan has a soft spot for the abundantly gifted actress with whom he has previously worked in Bhardwaj’s terrific Maqbool, and then in Mira Nair’s The Namesake. Apparently Tabu agreed to take a small role in Meghna Gulzar’s forthcoming film Talwar (produced by Bhardwaj) primarily because Irrfan coaxed her into doing it. Playing the wife of Irrfan’s investigating officer character in this recreation of the Aarushi Talwar murder case, Tabu reportedly had only a few days of filming for this part. There has been some speculation lately whether her character will even make it into the film’s final edit, given that it is only a supporting part and one that may not be integral to the plot. But, convinced that her presence in the movie would give it more gravitas, Irrfan and Bhardwaj wooed Tabu relentlessly till she agreed, reportedly.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s next Rangoon, a Casablanca-like love triangle will feature Shahid Kapoor, Saif & Kangana
Decoding Shakespeare: Vishal Bhardwaj on Haider at NYIFF
The greatness of Shakespeare is that he remains so contemporary after 400 years.”, said veteran filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj at the New York Indian Film Festival last week, where he engaged in an extremely insightful conversation with Shakespearean scholar and award-winning author, Professor James Shapiro (Columbia University).
On being asked how he was able to translate the 17th century writings of Shakespeare, which were of a very political nature, into the contemporary reality of the Kashmiri conquest and politics in Haider, Bhardwaj said “It’s about the politics behind humanity, their emotions and their conflicts. The politicians or ministers have changed. But the person behind the minister or the person behind the politician, remains the same. The conflict remains the same.”
Here are the excerpts from the fascinating talk.
ON ‘BISMIL’ AND SHAKESPEAREAN MUSICShahid Kapoor in Shahid Kapoor in ‘Haider’
[JS]: I think that Shakespeare plays Hamlet on a razor’s edge. There are many many questions in this play that cannot easily be answered. Is it permissible for his mother to marry his uncle or is that somehow taboo or incestuous? The next question concerns the ghost (of Hamlet’s father). For hundreds of years, in Catholic England, people believed in ghosts. But with the protestant reformation, ghosts were deemed Catholics fantasies; Protestants were no longer supposed to believe in ghosts (except as agents of the devil). So Shakespeare quite brilliantly situates Hamlet’s doubt about the ghost. And the ‘play within a play’ is pointless if Hamlet knows whether the ghost is true or untrue. That was a brilliant scene – the song in the beautiful ancient temple. I thought that was one of the highlights of the film. Can you talk a little bit about the thinking that went into that?
[VB]: We all know that the ‘Mousetrap’ is a very important plot point in Hamlet. So I knew that I was going to exploit that scene. I entered into this film industry as a music composer and later became a film director. When I decided to adapt Hamlet, I knew the mousetrap has to be a big big song number for me. It’s so unusual to have a song in that situation. Shakespeare’s Hamlet brings other actors to act in the ‘play within a play’ scene. But I decided that my Haider is very active himself and he is a very good dancer!
In India, people may forget the film, but if a song becomes popular, they will always remember it. In fact, people may forget the actors, but not the song. We’re so culturally rooted in music and dance. And my bread and butter for my physical body and soul is music. My mentor and the person who writes the lyrics for my films (Gulzar), is a great poet who has been writing for the past 60 years and is a filmmaker himself. So many things came together for me in this film. Kashmir has a beautiful 200-year-old tradition called ‘Bhand Pather’, where they make stories by singing and dancing, although this folk art is almost dying today, because it’s not supported by the State. Still some people, even though their families are very poor, are trying to earn their living through it. All these things came together and then we found this 1400-year-old temple.
[JS]: And the giant puppet – was it a part of this tradition as well?
[VB]: The giant puppet is not a part of the tradition, but the puppet is. So I magnified it!
[JS]: Is it usually all men dancing in that Kashmiri tradition? Or is it men and women?
[VB]: No, it’s mostly men.
[JS]: Let’s talk about music – one of the interests that I think we share. I hated Shakespeare in school and I never studied Shakespeare in university because it was ruined for me by having to read and recite. And it was only when I started seeing plays as a teenager, and seeing how it lived on stage, that I fell in love with Shakespeare. But Music was essential to Shakespeare’s culture in a way that I think it is central, if I’m presumptuous enough to say it, to Indian culture, in a way that it’s not in Anglo-American culture today. And when I read Shakespeare, I hear not only the music of the poetry, but also the songs embedded in the plays. When my students get to those songs, they tend to skip over them, in part because they’re difficult. But that was so exciting in your adaptation of Othello – that you understood how to make the song so central. And in Hamlet, when Ophelia goes mad, she is singing as well, and you picked up and exploited that. That is another way in which you connect the live wires of Shakespeare’s culture to contemporary Indian culture and practice, that makes the play live in ways that many American and British adaptations of Shakespeare on film, just don’t get.
[VB]: Yeah. And I think that’s why subconsciously I connect so well with it. And many times the critics in my own country, when they see these films, they think otherwise. There’s a song in Omkara, which was a major success (Beedi Jalaile) and relaunched me on top of the charts. There’s a term called ‘item number’ in India, where the actress comes and dances without any reason. She doesn’t need to dance for the story, but she does. They thought that I had inserted an item number. But I tried to argue with them that ‘you please read Othello’. This item song is lying there right in the center of it!
ON THE MOTHER-SON RELATIONSHIP – THE OEDIPUS COMPLEXTabu and Shahid Kapoor in Tabu and Shahid Kapoor in ‘Haider’
[JS]: I have to ask you about the mother-son relationship in Hamlet.
[VB]: I think that the ‘oedipus complex’ is a very essential part of Hamlet and it is not very obvious in the play. It’s so much beneath the surface. Because many times I wondered whether it is the interpretation of the critics or am I not reading it right? I don’t know because it’s not there on the surface or in your face. It is very subtle – if you want to make an interpretation of it, you can. So you have to tell me. Do you think that it is very obvious in the play?
[JS]: It’s a very good question and one that I can answer. Sigmund Freud in the late 1890s was struggling with a personal crisis. And his father died. And in a brilliant way of trying to understand and cure and heal himself, he stumbled upon what we now call the Oedipal Complex. But it did not come from reading Sophocles’ play. It came from reading Hamlet. He read Hamlet and he suddenly understood that this was the moment that he had solved the problem of Hamlet, and he called it the Oedipal Complex. But his writings make it clear that it was simply his self-understanding, and this understanding completely transformed the ways in which hamlet was staged, so that by the time Laurence Olivier played it in his famous film, he was steeped in a tradition of seeing the Oedipal Complex at the heart of the character. Even before then, on the American stage – John Barrymore did Hamlet in 1920 and it was very much like the oedipal story that you tell. I should add that Freud based his theory on the idea that Shakespeare wrote this play immediately after the death of his father. Freud read a book which stated that fact. Fifteen years later, the author of that book came out with another book and he said that I got the date wrong – Shakespeare’s father was still alive when he wrote ‘Hamlet’. Freud was so attached to his Oedipal theory that he decided that Shakespeare did not write the play. Somebody else must have. Because only someone who had undergone an Oedipal crisis could have written ‘Hamlet’ –and if Shakespeare hadn’t, then he’s not the author. Freud went to his grave thinking the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays. But we are now almost a century into a tradition of seeing that aspect of Hamlet’s relationship to his mother that is really central to your story.
[VB]: So then tell me, after Freud discovered this complex through reading Hamlet, did the vision of the scholars, towards Hamlet, change?
[JS]: Yes, absolutely.
Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in ‘Haider’
[VB]: Oh my God. This is a great revelation for me. I read somewhere that the original source of Hamlet was Amleth? Can you tell us something about that?
[JS]: Yes, sure I can. It’s a medieval scandinavian story about Amleth, who is a very straightforward revenger. Very active. And in the early 16th century, that was translated into Latin and it got picked up in many languages including French. We think that Shakespeare read the French version. But what is at stake in the versions that came down to Shakespeare, is the question of what did Hamlet’s mother know? And how early did she know it? Was she sleeping with her brother-in-law before the story begins, and in different versions, there are different answers to this question. And complicating that wildly is that, there are 3 versions of Shakespeare’s play that come down to us from his lifetime. There’s a version of ‘Hamlet’ that was published in 1603, a very different version published in 1604 and a third version published in 1623. All different. So scholars have to kind of combine them and lead to one story. The earliest version is the one with the much more active Hamlet – much closer to the one you describe. The version that was published last, probably revised by Shakespeare or somebody close to him, makes it more of a family drama than a political drama. Your version is much closer to the family drama of the 1623 version. And only in the earliest version do we get a sense that Hamlet’s mother is more aware of her own guilt –and also a possibility that she was complicit in this.
ON LOVE TRIANGLESTabu and Kay Kay Menon in Tabu and Kay Kay Menon in ‘Haider”
[JS]: Can you talk about how you handled not only the Oedipal dimension, but also the ways in which she might have had this affair with her brother-in-law, even before her husband is captured?
[VB]: Yes. In fact, there is a little scene in my film, when in a flashback, she (Gertrude) goes to her house, where she has found a gun in her son’s bag and she hugs her brother-in-law. And then there is a conversation in front of the father-in-law. The father-in-law tells her that since she has left home, the house feels very sad. And she asks that why don’t you bring Claudius here. To which he says “No no, he’s never going to get married. He doesn’t like any girls.” Gertrude asks Claudius, “Is it true?”. He says “Yeah. All the beautiful girls are taken – like you.” Then there is a silence. And if you notice the father-in-law’s expression, you will see that he is nervous. Because he knew. So that was planted – that he was in love with her even before she got married to his brother.
[JS]: That’s terrific. That moment in the film was great and again very subtle, which I admire. It made me think that you have a special interest in triangles. In a situation where a woman is pursued by more than one man and she must struggle to get herself out of the complications of that triangle.
[VB]: I think so. That’s why I chose Hamlet and Macbeth. In Macbeth, in fact, I made lady Macbeth not the wife of Macbeth, but the mistress of the king, in order to create that triangle. Coming back to that interest – you know in Muslim tradition, it’s not incestuous to marry your dead brother’s wife. It’s a tradition – that you take care of her. The reality of Kashmir is, if a woman’s husband goes missing or has disappeared, whether he is taken by army or he has become a militant – whatever the reason may be, the woman has to wait for four years before she can get married. That’s where the concept of ‘half-widows’ came into that society. They coined the term because you don’t know whether their husbands are dead or alive. And I found it so ironical that in today’s times, in modern day India, these practices are still so active. It’s a very bizarre, very disturbing reality you come across when you visit Kashmir. So I needed to find a parallel to the wedding. Because she can’t get married for four years technically since the husband’s body is not found. So to explore that, we created the situation where Hamlet, when he comes back home for the first time, sees his uncle dancing to his mother’s singing. That was the parallel to give him a shock – your husband just died, and you both are having fun.
ON LETTING HAIDER LIVEStill from Still from ‘Haider’
[JS]: What about the end of the film? You decided to let Haider live. I study a lot of 16th and 17th century drama, and a lot of these plays – both in England and in Spain, which hold that terrific tradition of revenge drama, if you are the avenger like Haider, you die. There are probably 30 or 40 revenge plays, and in every one of them, the avenger dies at the end. If you go into Spain, every avenger in a Spanish revenge drama of the period, lives! It’s a matter of guilt or shame. And in a guilt culture like Catholic Spain, it’s a form of punishment for somebody to live, than the easy way out – which is to die. So when you were thinking about how you were going to end the film, did you go back and forth on the decision?
[VB]: Actually, to be honest, when I finished the first draft with my co-writer Basharat Peer, Hamlet killed his uncle and he died himself. I have a friend here who teaches screenwriting at Tisch. Her name is Sabrina Dhawan and she’s a fantastic script writer and has collaborated with me on many films. I sent her my script for her reaction and once she read it, she called me and said that everything was fine, but what kind of message is this in the context of Kashmir. Because they’ve been seeing violence for so long now -more than 35 years, that to leave this film on a note that there is no hope for them – only violence and death is going to be their future, would be wrong. I asked her the solution and she said she didn’t have one. So we left it at that and I kept thinking about her point. And then we were on skype again and things came to a point where I was very irritated that I’ve got such a beautiful piece, and just for this one thing, I may have to drop this film. “What do you think I should do? Should Hamlet kill or what?” I asked. Suddenly as I said that, I realized. He doesn’t take revenge. He overcomes his feeling of revenge. It make him a bigger character! It leaves hope for Kashmir. For everything. And then we started looking back at the whole script.
When I’m writing a script, when I pick up a subject, the first thing I always look at, is the vision. Whenever I read a novel, I first read the last page to see what happens. Because if the resolution is stupid, then there’s no point in writing those 500 pages! I heard a line from a very big writer once, that films always close back from the end. So in Haider, when we decided that he wasn’t going to kill the uncle, we had to plant all these things earlier in the film, and that ‘violence begets violence’ line comes from there.
[JS]: The other thing you do is give Hamlet’s mother far more agency than she gets in Shakespeare’s play. You can’t get more agency than having bombs strapped to your chest. And it’s always bothered me a little bit in Shakespeare’s version that she dies drinking. There was a very famous production in Chicago, 40 years ago, memorable only because Gertrude was an alcoholic. And from the beginning to the end of the play, all she would do is drink martinis. So I think that you balanced out Hamlet’s decision not to be bloodthirsty and not actually take revenge, and you have his mother take revenge. Did that come to you early on?
[VB]: It was there, when we were coming to act three, in the first draft as well. My co-writer is from Kashmir, and he was not very happy with me leaving the film with this hope of ‘violence begets violence’. He said that so much has happened, we have to show the darkest end possible. In this regard, we both had a conflict. One of the arguments was that if we have to leave hope at the end, then why is the mother killing, a few minutes before the end? But I never saw it as the mother avenging for Haider. I saw it as a mother’s love. She knows that her son is going to be killed and she requests Claudius to not kill him. She tries to save Haider till the end and at one point, she realizes that her son is not going to surrender. He’ll get himself killed. That’s when she takes action.
ON CENSORSHIPShraddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in Shraddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in ‘Haider’
[JS]: One of the things that I studied and research about Shakespeare, is the extent to which Shakespeare lived with censorship. Every play he wrote–icluding ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet’–he had to submit to the equivalent of the review board, which you had to do, and they would suggest changes. You can have any kind of violence or sex in American films today, and still get a decent rating. But Haider made me feel that Shakespeare’s play and your film share the same constraints of working under censorship, if you want to have a public reach or a wider audience. And I would love for you to speak a little bit about kinds of changes you had to make or chose to make, when this film was presented to the censoring agency in India.
[VB]: I think that the European and American audience is very broad-minded and the law enforcement agencies are very strong. India is a very very beautiful democracy but the law enforcement is not very effective. Even without the censor board or a review committee, the local politics, local vandalism, comes into play. They don’t let the screening take place in a theater. They break the theater and the theater owners are forced to bear the damages. So it’s a problem with the law enforcement in our country, more than the problem of censorship or democracy. Coming back to Haider, this is my most political film and Kashmir is such a volatile and such a sensitive area to make a film on, and I could get away with it. Fortunately for me, the government and the regime didn’t change. The elections had just finished and I knew that if I go in a few weeks later, things may change for me. I was lucky enough to have good members in the review committee because there were so many things that were so sensitive, which they could’ve asked me to cut. It really created a lot of storm in the audiences too. I was called anti-national, anti-army, but I don’t care, because I am not.
ON OMKARA (OTHELLO)
[JS]: Of all your films, the one character that I thought is most brilliantly realized, and you have terrific actors undoubtedly, is Iago (Ishwar ‘Langda’ Tyagi) in Omkara. You know in modern productions, on the London stage and sometimes on American stage, Othello is the named character, but the best actor now wants to play Iago. So was he the most leading actor in that cast or did he just come across that way?
[VB]: The actor’s name is Saif Ali Khan and his character was called Langda Tyagi. He was indeed one of the biggest stars at that time. And the guy who played Othello (Ajay Devgn) is also a very big star.
Saif Ali Khan in Saif Ali Khan in ‘Omkara’
[JS]: But in the production, it’s just a very interesting question of whether Othello or Iago is in his own mind, at the center of it.
[VB]: The actor who played Othello is a very generous man, very nice guy. He was also the producer of the film. He said that, ‘I can see that I’m the only one who can play Othello. If I want to play Iago, then who will play Othello?’ He knew what was going to happen after the film releases. The film will be known for Iago, for Saif Ali Khan. And that’s again a very smart thing in Shakespeare’s plays. He names it Macbeth, but it belongs to lady Macbeth. He names it Othello, but it belongs to Iago.
[JS]: Very true. But, it has only really become the case in recent times. And I think especially for Othello. I think lead actors from the 40s and 50s have discovered that Iago is the best role in the play, instead of chasing the main character.
ON THE UNUSUAL SUCCESS OF THE TRILOGYShahid Kapoor in HaiderShahid Kapoor in Haider’
[JS]: I’ll just say this, and a lot of students and friends know that I don’t really flatter – I’ve seen many adaptations of Shakespeare in the American film industry and the British film industry. From the 1940s on, Shakespeare has been, with the exception of ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and one or two other films, a disaster for Hollywood. But it’s truly not been the case for Bollywood and that is something I try to understand and figure out. Why do you think you have done better than American or English versions of Shakespeare?
[VB]: I think because Shakespeare is not from my country. That’s the main reason. Because you know, when I was making Macbeth, I was very ignorant about the magnitude of Shakespeare’s name. I was making it for my own country, and I thought that it won’t travel beyond that. But I was wrong and the film traveled to different festivals, about 11 years ago. The second time I was doing Shakespeare, I tried to look at the reasons why my adaptation worked in my own country and outside. I realized the bottomline – the main reason was that I was not burdened with Shakespeare’s name. And I was taking liberties as if you know, Shakespeare was my assistant. Unpaid assistant! I didn’t care for what will happen. In my own country, scholars and critics on Shakespeare are very few in number and they don’t even go to watch the films. So I thought, it’ll be fine. That’s how I came upon those things which worked for me. And when I look at other films made on Shakespeare’s plays, I see that they remain very burdened. They’re so conscious of Shakespeare’s work, that they don’t rise beyond it. And it may be too much for me to say, but I felt that in the Hamlet which was made with Ethan Hawke – it was a very nice setting, but it used Shakespearean language. Which makes it so unreal today because that’s not the way people normally speak. So I think this is the reason and, with all due respect, I always remain very true to the soul of the play rather than the text of the play. I was always trying to be very honest to the core of Shakespeare’s work.
[JS]: That’s a terrific answer. And it goes a long way to answer why your films have been so successful. I think, and again I speak only as an outsider, but as an outsider who understands 16th century English culture, that the family dynamics, the simple things like rituals – of weddings, funerals or the food – the eating in your films, you get that. And a lot of the contemporary adaptations don’t seize on that and make it essential to the heart of the film.
‘Haider’ is the third film in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean trilogy – the first two being ‘Maqbool’ (Macbeth) and ‘Omkara’ (Othello). It won the People’s Choice Award at the Rome Film Festival and many National Awards in India. Professor James Shapiro teaches English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and specialises in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period. He has published widely on Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture, and won the 2006 Samuel Johnson Prize as well as the 2006 Theatre Book Prize for his work ‘1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare’. (Wikipedia)
Liked him in Haider, Raees and Kaabil.