What transpires when a music composer decides to wear the director’s hat? For Vishal Bhardwaj, the answer is pure magic. His ability to understand Shakespeare and translate him into effortless cinematic experiences can be seen in Omkara (adapted from Othello) and Maqbool (adapted from Macbeth). With Haider, he takes it a notch higher. The tragedy of Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and delivering it on-screen is a tough nut to crack. But Haider does not falter.
As the first scene opens against the backdrop of the 1995 Kashmir insurgency, we can sense that the air is tense and cold. A doctor decides to perform surgery at his home on a pro-separatist militant group leader. His wife Ghazala, played by Tabu, is sceptical of her husband’s intentions. But the doctor believes that his duty to treat transcends all prejudices. Soon they are traced by the military and their house is set ablaze. Hilaal, the doctor, is taken for questioning and never returns.
Haider, their son, played by Shahid Kapoor, returns from Aligarh Muslim University in search of his father, only to find a romance brimming between his mother and his uncle Khurram, played by Kay Kay Menon. What unravels is a saga of deceit, vengeance and ambition.
Arshia, Haider’s love interest, played by Shraddha Kapoor, encounters Roohdaar, played by Irrfan Khan, a fugitive from a prison that he shared with Hilaal. Roohdar reveals that Khurram and Ghazala conspired for Hilaal’s imprisonment. He instigates Haider to seek revenge as this was Hilaal’s last wish. From here we witness Haider’s gradual descent into madness. He shaves his head, gives political speeches, talks in poetry, and is driven by only one motive: revenge.
Yet when Haider is about to vanquish Khurram, he stops. Does he stop because he remembered Ghazala’s words that revenge breeds revenge? Does he stop because he realises it would lead to more bloodshed and the loss of loved ones? Does he stop because of the underlying Oedipal complex shown in the early teenage years and later as an undertone in the dialogues? Dissecting the film might answer these questions.
Shahid unleashes his full potential to portray anguish, hatred, and insanity all at the same time. Kay Kay Menon as the antagonist gives such a natural performance that you forget that it is an act. Tabu is a gift to the Hindi cinema: notice her in the scenes where she is quieter – her eyes speak of Ghazala’s suffering. Irrfan Khan is effortless as Roohdaar. Shraddha plays Arshia with utmost earnestness. Stellar performances and impeccable storytelling make it a masterpiece.
The soundtrack of the movie is melody mixed with melancholy. ‘Bismil’ by Sukhwinder Singh transforms the play-within-a-play by revealing the entire tragedy in its lyrics. The choreography of this song is a visual delight. ‘Khul Kabhi Toh’ by Arijit Singh captures the essence of a sensuous romance. Every song, be it ‘Jhelum’, ‘Aao Na’, or ‘Aaj Ke Naam’, strengthens the screenplay.
The film plays with dark humour and also highlights the fact that love is the most powerful weapon. Despite being long, you will find yourself immersed in its profundity. You can catch Haider on Netflix.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.