There are always these three questions one encounters during a conflict. Is it worth it? Why am I doing this? And most importantly, what will I gain out of this? Unfortunately, there are no right answers to these questions, which make them so puzzling. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider depicts the blurred lines of a conflict and makes us raise the question, what is indeed the difference between right and wrong?
The opening sequence involves Haider’s father, Hilaal, treating a militant who suffers from severe appendicitis. In an environment filled with chaos, he is the only character who seems to know his purpose and is aware of the circumstances of his choices. As a doctor, it is his duty to nurse the sick and injured, irrespective of their side. When his wife Ghazala questions his allegiance in a scene, he calmly replies, “Zindagi” (life). When Hilaal gets caught by the army, it seems that he knows his ultimate fate, irrespective of whether he tells the truth or not. He would rather die as an honourable doctor who chose his duty over anything else than a Kashmiri who sided with the militants.
Ghazala, on the other hand, acts as the perfect contrast to Hilaal. It seems that she has a set definition of what is right and wrong. She has lived her entire life based on this belief system. Seeing the armed rebellion of militants unfold right in front of her eyes has scarred her immensely. Therefore, seeing her husband treat one at home makes her question his allegiance. It is indeed her belief system that compels her to confide in her brother-in-law Khurram, unintentionally leading to Hilaal getting captured and killed. Unaware of the ruin she has set in motion, she lives under the shadow of a protective Khurram, so much so that she doesn’t realise that what she seeks in Khurram was already present in a person who would side by him every day, her husband Hilaal. In the climax, when Haider confronts her of her involvement in his father’s death, she mentions that neither did she intend to kill him nor did she hate him. But when questioned about her feelings for Khurram, she remains silent. This shows how much she was blindsided in all this chaos. And when the truth finally surfaced, she could not bear the loss of her loved ones, leading to her ultimate sacrifice.
Similarly for Arshia, Haider’s love interest. As the city of Srinagar is embroiled in the insurgency, as a journalist, she tries to be as unbiased as possible in such matters. When Haider gets involved in this chaos in pursuit of his father, she is forced to choose between her family and her love. As her father Pervez manipulates her to extract information from Haider, she does this under the impression that he will take care of Haider, irrespective of the outcome. Things take a dark turn when Pervez’s true intentions are revealed as Haider exposes Khurram to the public. His explanations are futile for Arshia, as she only sees that he never really cared about Haider’s safety, and she loudly exclaims that she never wants to see him again. This is shortly followed by Haider killing him point-blank. Exhausted from what this conflict has done to her and losing everything she once loved, she faces no choice but to kill herself.
Amidst all of this, Haider’s only solace lay in his family and his love, Arshia. Some may also notice his Oedipal relationship with his mother, Ghazala. It is when this peace is disturbed that we see a drastic change in him. Call it his innocence or naïvety, but as soon as he reaches his hometown, he is faced with a plethora of dilemmas, which ultimately shape his character arc. The peace he always envisioned is shattered when he sees Ghazala singing along with Khurram. He cannot fathom anyone other than Hilaal or himself to be there with her in this time of grief. He feels challenged by Khurram’s very presence, which fuels his search for his father. The lines of truth and falsity are blurred for him as he hears different narratives surrounding Hilaal’s death. While Roohdaar, Hilaal’s cellmate, claims that Khurram was responsible, Khurram claims the other way around. He conveys his thoughts by saying “Roohdaar ka afsaana sachcha, ya jhoothi kahaani chacha ki? Kiske jhooth mein jhooth hai, kiske sach mein sach nahi?”
One can draw a parallel between Haider’s personality and what Jammu and Kashmir is going through. A state known for its scenic beauty and innocence now finds itself embroiled in bloodshed and a fight for power and control. Amidst all the manipulation and politics, it finds itself at a position where it has chance to raise its voice, yet it can’t do so. The cries are muffled, the stories numbed and the wounds countless. Even as the climax draws in, Haider has the chance to kill a gravely injured Khurram after losing Arshia and Ghazala. However, he remembers Ghazala’s last words to him that revenge only begets revenge. Weak, exhausted and disillusioned by the chaos surrounding him, he gives up and lets him go.
In many ways, Haider leaves us with more questions than answers. Was Roohdaar really trying to help Haider, or had he just used him as a trump card to win over Kashmir? Did Khurram really love Ghazala, or he was nothing but a power-hungry lawyer who would do anything to get people under his influence, even if it means to eliminate his family? And most importantly, were all their actions worth all that they lost?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.