UTV Motion Pictures and Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures’ Haider (UA) is based on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. It is set in the picturesque Kashmir. Haider Meer (Shahid Kapoor) is distraught because his father, Dr. Hilaal Meer (Narendra Jha), has been taken captive by the army for harbouring terrorists in his house as one of them was in urgent need of surgery. On hearing the news, Haider returns from Aligarh, where he has been studying. Haider believes, his father would return but he is in for a terrible shock when Roohdaar (Irrfan Khan), claiming to be with Dr. Hilaal Meer in prison, tells him that Dr. Meer is no more and that the one responsible for his father’s death is none other than his own paternal uncle, Khurram Meer (Kay Kay Menon). As if that weren’t bad enough, Haider is already feeling miserable that his doting mother, Ghazala Meer (Tabu), is now in love with Khurram Meer. The two even get married later.
Is Khurram Meer really responsible for the death of his brother? Is Ghazala also hand-in-glove with Khurram as regards the death? Has Haider been misinformed? Does Haider avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle, Khurram Meer? Does Haider’s mother stop him from seeking revenge?
The story of Hamlet is adapted and set against the backdrop of Kashmir. The political climate of Kashmir also, therefore, becomes an intergral part of the story. The screenplay, written by Basharat Peer and Vishal Bhardwaj, moves at an extremely leisurely pace. While this will appeal to the evolved audience, the masses will find the drama excruciatingly slow and of the kind which tests their patience. The first half moves very slowly and remains quite boring (for the masses) till just a little before interval when Roohdaar comes on the scene. The film gains momentum from that scene and raises hope of a fast-paced second half. However, the post-interval part is also very slow. Yes, it has more drama but the whole dilemma of Haider and his mental state after he learns about his uncle’s alleged involvement in his father’s death is very class-appealing. Again, while the classes and evolved viewers would love the subtleties and the nuances in the proceedings and the various characters, the masses would not care much for them. Questions like whether Ghazala Meer was involved in the plan to eliminate her husband and, if so, was it because she was in love with Khurram even before the demise of her husband crop up in the audience’s minds but no effort has been made to address such issues. This is not a fault on the part of the screenplay writers. It is just that they have chosen not to anwser questions like the above. While the class audience will appreciate the fact that the writers have not tried to present everything in black or white, the mass audience will not take such ‘ambiguities’ too kindly. Similarly, a lot of loose ends are not tied up in the end, giving the masses the feeling of incompleteness of the drama because they are used to watching films where everything is clearly concluded in the end. For the evolved audience, however, this kind of screenplay would actually make them happy that the writers haven’t bowed down to box-office pressures.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s dialogues are inspired and realistic.
Shahid Kapoor does an excellent job as Haider Meer. He lives the character and acts with admirable ease, not once going overboard or trying to monopolise a scene. As his girlfriend, Arshia, Shraddha Kapoor is good but that’s about it. Tabu is remarkable in the role of Ghazala Meer. Her body language, dialogue delivery, facial expressions are all so real that she comes out with flying colours. Kay Kay Menon is natural to the core as Khurram Meer, acting with great care. Irrfan Khan shines in a brief guest appearance. He gives the drama a fantastic boost with his presence and brilliant acting. Narendra Jha looks and plays Dr. Hilaal Meer effortlessly. Amir Bashir (as Arshia’s brother, Liyaqat) and Lalit Parimoo (as Arshia’s father) lend very good support. Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat provide the much-needed relief in bit roles as Salman and Salman. Kulbhushan Kharbanda (as Dr. Hussain) and Basharat Peer (as the man with the ‘new disease’) are effective. Anshuman Malhotra has his moments as young Haider. Others are adequate.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s direction is effective but it caters to only the class audience, much like the film’s script. His narration is sensitive. Music (Vishal Bhardwaj) is good but lack of a couple of or even one hit song is sorely felt. ‘Bismil’ and ‘Khul kabhi toh’ are melodious. Lyrics (Gulzar and Faiz Ahmed Faiz) are rich. Picturisation of the ‘Bismil’ song, choreographed by Sudesh Adhana, is fairly good. Vishal Bhardwaj’s background music is extraordinary. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is of a very high standard. The supremely beautiful locales of Kashmir come alive on the screen with his splendid camerawork. Harpal Singh (Palli) and Ravi Kumar’s action and stunts are very good but the womenfolk might find the action too gruesome. Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray’s production designing is excellent. Aarif Shaikh’s editing is good.
On the whole, Haider is a class-appealing fare which will do well in premium multiplexes and high-end single-screen cinemas of the big cities mainly. It will be enjoyed by the classes but it will not be liked by the masses. Business in lesser multiplexes and lesser single-screen cinemas as also in ‘B’ and ‘C’ class centres will be rather dull. Overall, average.