October 3, 2014 By KS Shameer

Hamlet and his Kashmirian Odyssey


Touchstones by which a Hamlet adaptation is measured are the ghost and the play within the play. Though these two appear only minimally on the stage, they drive the tempo of the play. Ghost is nothing but Hamlet’s subconscious which brings his hidden fears and oedipal angst out into his (as well as ours) conscious, thereby justifying his madness as well as the whole drama. Play within the play proves that Hamel’s madness is an extreme expression of sanity and leads us, quite seamlessly, to the tragic denouncement. These two elements are so germane to the stage that a film director, if he is a dullard, can prove by their adaptation that his creative output is equally dullard.

Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1948 adaptation of the movie faced the music for Oliver’s voice-over narration (besides his essaying the central role and besides directing), thereby playing up his interpretation over what the play unfolds and for overplaying the Oedipal element-the success of Shakespeare and stage directors lies in hiding their own oedipal complexes within the structure and plot of the play and within the Oedipal complex of Hamlet. However, Oliver did not muddle with the ghost and brilliantly visualized the play within the play.

Watching Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider, I was looking for these two elements. He was daring enough to muddle with them and recast them in his own way on screen. Wow, he pulled them off. Ghost in the film is a flesh and blood human who appears in the middle of the movie. He is Haider’s father’s companion, his alter ego to the core. Hazard a guess who in the Hindi/Urdu film world can brilliantly essay the role? None other than the guy who tempted us with his silence and calculated dialogues punctuated with well-modulated facial clues in Life of the Pi. No more clues.

Play within the play which is placed in the script like a Wagah border between Haider’s sanity and insanity is a well-choreographed dance drama sequence which moves us into tears. Music rendered to the same dramatic cadence in which the tempo of the play is set; tom-toms; santoors and sitars; and above all, the scintillating body movements of Shahid Kapoor would have made Shakespeare, had the Bard been in the audience, rope in Vishal to stage his play again (just as Francis Ford Coppola invited the director to assist him in his Youth without Youth).

Haider is not just the adaptation of Hamelt. It is an adaptation of scriptwriter Basharat Peer’s poignant tales of Kashmir, Curfewed Night. It is about a life torn between military and militancy. A land so delicious and a people so beautiful have been rewired into the intricacies of law and order. A people whose cry for azadi is the only sonorous, if deeply painful, music amidst the blood curdling roar of AK 47. How laws, which should ideally merge with people, jarringly stand out has been brilliantly narrated in Haider’s lunatic street show, where law and order has been pitted against the cry for azadi. The script writer succeeded in shedding light on the mindset of law enforcing authorities about such an identity. The film is a brilliant narrative on how clampdown on militancy victimizes people who have no sympathy for militants, thereby turning them as targets of militants.

Vishal Bhardwaj has proved again that he is ‘Visual’ Bhardwaj. Though the film is character centered and emotions of the character should be played up over the setting (even in the play), cinematographer Pankaj Kumar helps the director in contrasting the tragic plot with a landscape once equated to paradise. Vishal in his latest matru ki bijlee ka mandola has been noted for keeping the theatrics and choreographed movements of central characters throughout the movie, thereby consciously subverting the realism of the content for the satire, irony and dramatic effect of the political element of the content. This feature, which Anurag Kashyap effects in his ‘Gangs of Wasseypoor’, is signature feature of young Indian directors. Haider, strong though its realism is, also noted for the same. Though Shraddha Kapoor is too young for Ophelia (and she plays the additional role of Horatio as well) and hence disappointed, Tabu and Key Key Menon proved their range is wide and they are fit for deeper roles. I give it 7 points out of ten.

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