Tragic and beautifully shot, Haider’s take on Hamlet proves that great storytelling is forever
I never thought I’d recommend for anyone to watch yet another Shakespeare adaptation but here I am, enthusiastically doing so. Haider’s take on Hamlet brings the classic tragedy into the real, blending European melodrama with Bollywood flair with an ease that really shouldn’t be possible.
The last in a trilogy of Shakespeare re-imaginings by director Vishal Bhardwaj, Haider is set in 1990’s Kashmir where a young man seeking closure over his father’s disappearance becomes embroiled in the political and social turmoil in the region. The eponymous Haider is portrayed by ridiculously talented Shahid Kapoor, with Ophelia reborn as Tabu, brought to life by actress Shraddha Kapoor. This film swept up awards like some of us used to sweep the veranda.
It’s a tale as old as 1603
Politics has always been tricky at best and soul-crushing at worst. In the original play Hamlet’s quest first for revenge, then truth, then revenge again leaves a literal trail of corpses which ends with the Danish prince’s own death. Well, technically it ends with his uncle’s death, but you get the idea. In Haider, things work out… a little bit differently.
The movie isn’t just a scene for scene adaptation, you see. Co-writer Basharat Peer drew from his own memoir titled Curfewed Night to bring us a story that’s both familiar to anybody who ever had to write an English Literature exam and also unique. I’m not going to get weird and voyeuristic about Curfewed Night’s account of the conflict in Kashmir – I’ll just say that it’s a book worth reading.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
The similarities between Haider and Hamlet are all in the characters – each given a one-to-one conversion, with the same general roles and motivations. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are wonderfully translated as Salman 1 and Salman 2 (with a hilarious and baffling introduction) while Gertrude and Claudius become compelling and manipulative Ghazala and deeply dislikeable Khurram. Irrfan Khan’s Roodhaar is masterfully delivered.
The differences lie almost entirely in the outcomes of those characters’ actions. The modernisation of the tale leads to a few logical differences in the effects of each character’s choices. For example: Ghazala’s relationship with Khurram leads her son to thoroughly explore his father’s disappearance and his investigation in turn changes her relationship with Khurram to dramatic effect. Ghazala’s relationship with her son is refreshingly portrayed with a complexity indicative of its cultural context. Haider’s torn between reverence for his mother and loyalty to his father and it’s heartbreaking.
In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way.N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Of course, if you think that the seriousness of the story somehow exempts it from having a musical number – you are wrong. Haider takes the opportunity for theatrics presented by its source material and weaves it into an entrancing performance by main actor Shahid Kapoor (who really is obscenely talented you guys). Also of note is Haider’s descent into madness as the story reaches its crescendo.
This is where my spoilers stop, though. If you’ve read, watched or found yourself acting the play Hamlet, you’ll have a good idea of what follows. If you’ve somehow managed to live a life of innocence I salute and feel for you because things get wild.
Mood Rating: To watch or not to watch is not the question. You have to watch this movie. Please.