Sunday, October 05, 2014

Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider/Hamlet a visual treat sans Hamlet's introspective, existentialist cussedness, and the Bard's sublime poetry

Haider, an adaptation of Shakespeare's most difficult and dark tragedy, is perhaps the best of Vishal Bhardwaj's Shakespearean films. In Omkara, a refracted Othello, was problematic because the over-sunny and bright visuals and the rustic, Hindi heartland swagger of the characters and the feckless Hindi dialect used in the film turned out to be an unseemly ketchup. In Haider, Bhardwaj creates a scenario, Kashmir Valley with bleak winters and the white snow cover which serves as perfect counterpoint to, as well as image of, the inner storm stress of the characters -- Haider/Hamlet (Shahid Kapoore), Ghazala/Gertrude), Irfan Khan (Roohdar/Ghost), Narendra Jha (Hilal Meer/King Hamlet), Khurram/Claudius (Kay Kay Menon), Arshia/Ophelia (Shraddha Kapoor), Pervez Lone/Polonius (Lalit Parimoo), and even Salman 1/Rosencratz (Sumit Kaul) and Salman2/Guildenstern (Rajat Bhagat).
Bharadwaj gives an iconic mould to the faces of Tabu and Shraddha Kapoor in many of the frames, as though their faces were chiselled in sorrow and pain. It leaves an amazing impression. Hamlet's mad antics provide Bhardwaj to indulge in his favourtie excesses of histrionics which he makes Shahid Kapoor do with certain success. But what we do not get from Shahid Kapoor even in his most pensive moments is the sense of inner suffering though he does his best to convey it. The actors and actresses in the film are helpless in this film because they do not have the prop of Shakespeare's splendid poetry, which is what makes this play such a pleasure to read, and if acted out well, such a pleasure to watch. What we find on the page is the poetry, and what we find on the stage/screen is the action. Shakespeare was working in a difficult situation. He had to make his plays thrillers if they were to earn him money, and money he did earn even from plays like Hamlet.
Abandoning Shakespeare's poetry, Bhardwaj with the help of Basharat Peer to overlay the political trauma on the plot of Hamlet. Both Bhardwaj and Peer almost succeed. The two try to portray the inner anguish of Kashmir as that of the buffeted soul of Hamlet. Ghazala/Getrude marrying her brother-in-law Khurram after the death of Hilal Meer offers fascinating parallels. Hilal can be construed as India and Khurram as Pakistan, and Ghazala as Kashmir. The frustration and confusion of Hamlet arises from Ghazala's soul torn between the two. Bhardwaj/Peer even try to articulate the thoughts of Ghazala -- Shakespeare does not allow any leeway either to Gertrude or to Claudius -- whne she tries to explain to Haider her barren emotional life when she was married to Hilal.Hamlet as political metaphor of Kashmir is much too tempting for interpreters. But the film fails to portray the Kashmir's emotional trauma powerful enough because it does not need a Shakespeare play to do it. It has to be portrayed as a Kashmiri soul drama.It is here the film falters, falls and fails.
The dialogues fail the film. There is no room for those grandiloquent soliloquies which give Shakespeare's play its magical glint of words, thoughts and emotions. Bhardwaj manages to create a visual correlative in the grave-diggers scene, which has been integrated with cunning and finesse into the plot. It is the metaphysical moment in the film.

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