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Saturday, 11 October 2014

This Will Make Your Blood Freeze

Disclaimer: I practically know nothing about Hamlet or the actual situation in Kashmir circa 1995. This review contains spoilers.

Seductively dark and refreshingly edgy, Haider will definitely evoke sharp reactions from whoever watches it. The film itself is nuanced in its portrayal of sensitive topics; taking sides and drawing conclusions, it seems, is left to the viewers.

To watch or not to watch? That is the question
The movie opens in 1995 Kashmir with a militant being brought to Dr. Hilal Meer's home for a surgery. Alarmed by who her husband is treating, Ghazala (Tabu) questions his loyalty and in doing so, asks the audience to ponder over whether people should just go about doing their duty without worrying about its consequences. The ingenuous doctor makes his allegiance clear as he responds to her accusation by saying that the only side he is on is that of life. The army/police however believe otherwise, and on being tipped off about the location of the militant, smoke the doctor's home with a bazooka and make the doctor "disappear" for being an accomplice to militants.

Enter Haider (Shahid Kapoor). Distraught at seeing his dilapidated home, Haider goes to seek comfort in his mother (Ghazala) but is shocked to see her in what he deems to be a compromising state with her brother-in-law Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Haider struggles desperately to find his father but without any reward. In the meantime, both Ghazala and Khurram explain themselves to Haider and assuage him for the moment. Flashbacks offer us insights into Haider's relationship with his parents and raise a few eyebrows vis-a-vis his relationship with his mother. Back in 1995, Haider chastises Ghazala for regularly using emotional blackmail to get him to do what she wanted, pointing back to how she sent him away from Kashmir and consequently from his father. Ghazala's angst, as she is unfairly blamed by her son, is palpable and reminiscent of another famous fictional mother - Carmela Soprano, reflecting on her travails with Meadow.

Hope for Haider arrives in the form of the sibylline Roohdaar (Irrfan Khan) who reaches out with a message from the doctor. Subsequently, two contrasting versions of what happened to Haider's father are laid out. Here, the film is at its strongest, as both Haider and the audience are apprehensive about who to believe - Roohdaar's separatist agenda, and Khurram's love for Ghazala provide sufficient reason to doubt both tales. All doubts are vanquished for Haider however, when Khurram decides to marry Ghazala. For me, the film's quintessential moment of chutzpah was when Khurram, after having slept with Ghazala the previous night, addresses her in the morning as Bhabhijaan.

Elsewhere, "Pruncess" Arshi is almost a seraphic presence in Haider's life as she first saves, then helps and later, calms him.
"You remind me of my mother"
Shraddha Kapoor's beautiful bare back and goofy yet cute dance moves notwithstanding, the song could have easily been replaced with a shorter love scene that conveyed the same message. The film faltered in pace a little here but it promptly got back on track with "Bismil".

Subsequently the film marches along confidently as each character does what they believe they must to protect or avenge their loved ones. The deaths of Arshi and her brother drive home the point that in every conflict, it is invariably innocents who get caught in the crossfire.

  • Characters - Everyone in the film is right according to their personal code of ethics, and their enmity arises and is aggravated by the situation that they find themselves in. Haider's mania even raises doubts about whether his hate for Khurram is driven solely by the need to avenge his father, or also by jealousy at seeing him with Ghazala, as the film hints at the Oedipus Complex. Khurram, for all his shortcomings, redeemed himself in my book when he ran towards and not away from Ghazala on realizing she was going to blow herself up. A proverbial doff-of-the-hat or rather, jiggle-of-the-belt is due for the three Salmans for providing some welcome comic relief.
  • Acting - Top notch! Tabu probably plays the movie's most nuanced character as she constantly tries to keep her world from falling apart, and she is brilliant in all her scenes. Shahid is outright scary post-interval. His deranged soliloquies make for some of the film's most edgy scenes. Irrfan Khan once again excels in his eccentricities and keeps you wanting more. Kay Kay Menon and Shraddha Kapoor too slipped into their characters with ease. Kudos to Tabu and Shraddha Kapoor for nailing that funny English accent if at all that is how it is (or used to be) spoken in Kashmir.
  • Cinematography and Direction - Kashmir provides a hauntingly beautiful backdrop to all the drama and bloodshed that unfolds and stains its pure white snow. A blood-covered boy waking up in the middle of a truck full of corpses and revelling in his freedom after escaping was a surprisingly good scene. The "Bismil" martial arts routine is extremely well-choreographed and steadily builds up the tension with Gulzar's lyrics eloquently dramatizing Haider's account of events. The scenes with the Graveyard Guys give you goosebumps and their version of "Aao na" in the film is every bit as awesome as Vishal Dadlani's version in the trailer.

Haider deserves accolades for steering clear of the temptation to be preachy despite the material providing ample opportunity to do so. Its strongest rhetoric perhaps comes against revenge as the film released on Gandhi Jayanti aptly echoes the aphorism that "an eye for an eye will only make the world go blind."

So just watch it, there is no question.

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