Director, composer, and screenwriter Vishal Bhardwaj adds Hamlet to his list of Hindi adaptations of Shakespeare classics in his latest film, Haider. Co-written with Basharat Peer this is Bhardwaj's third installment of the Bard's work which includes Omkara (Othello) and Maqbool (Macbeth).
The story as as follows: It is 1995, and the student poet Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns to his village in Kashmir after he learns his father is missing. He is met by armed forces - who are cracking down on insurgency in the region - and the engagement of his mother Ghazala (Tabu) with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Distraught about the loss of his childhood home and his missing father, he find support in childhood friend, journalist, and love interest Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor). As Haider tries to track down his father's whereabouts, he discovers a web of betrayal that leads him on a path of vengeance.
If you are new to Bollywood, here are five reasons to watch this film.
Many modern-day productions of Hamlet update the look and feel of the play through set and clothing design. But Bhardwaj breathes new life into the centuries old tale by making it an adaptation rather than a translation. It takes the main elements of Shakespeare's tragedy and adapts them for modern-day sensibilities. For example, Haider highlights Hamlet's upbringing to provide more of a context for his relationship with his father and mother. While Shakespeare's poetic words express Hamlet's sorrow and rage, Bhardwaj brings the audience alongside Haider on the journey of love and loss through flashbacks and travels around Kashmir. Scenes from Hamlet are reordered, characters revamped, and a unique and unforgettable final scene created that remains true to the original conclusion. Those familiar with Shakespeare will no doubt enjoy doing a side-by-side analysis of the similarities and differences of the Haider and Hamlet storylines.
Set in 1995 Kashmir during insurgency conflicts, the film highlights the time when the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was in force and civilian disappearances were rampant. As Haider tries to unravel the mystery of his missing father, we witness regional conflict and scenes of torture and death which are sometimes horrific. In a 2013 IBNLive interview, Bhardwaj explained why he choose this backdrop for the story of Haider:
"I need a violent, political backdrop for 'Hamlet'. Also, I believe that in the mainstream, we haven't really made a film about what is happening in Kashmir."
While shooting for Haider, there were several times when the crew experienced difficulty in the region due to the weather or protests by local residents. At the same time many in the communities where filming took place supported the efforts of the cast and crew. According to an article in The Indian Express, after addressing objections from Kashmir University students:
The rest of the shooting passed off peacefully with Bhardwaj assuring the people of Kashmir that Haider would be “a real depiction of the pain people have gone through in the past two decades.”
In addition to sharing the history of a region that has seen more than it's fair share of strife, the story of Kashmir as presented in the film reminds us that the ongoing conflicts we see in the news in countries all over the world touch - and devastate - the lives of real people and families everyday.
If you are new to Bollywood, you may not recognize the actors starring in Haider. These are all seasoned performers who've proven their acting mettle and have won awards for their work. Shahid Kapoor is appropriately sad, angry, moody and crazed. Tabu tries to play the parent despite being conflicted and uncertain. Shraddha Kapoor is straightforward as she tries to soothe Haider's tortured heart and soul. Kay Kay Menon successfully dons a mask of sincerity over his hidden machinations. And the mysterious Irrfan Khan walks in and tells his tale with the frankness of a survivor. This cast enabled Bhardwaj to create a believable and intense story that effectively explores the themes of love, betrayal, and mourning in a way that would not have been as convincing in the hands of lesser actors.
Bringing Vishal Bhardwaj's vision to the screen cinematically included creating the right soundtrack. He accomplished this by composing music which mesmerizes and incorporating lyrics by Gulzar and Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Sometimes ethereal, sometimes earth-bound, sometimes in-your-face, the soundtrack perfectly complements the storyline. Bhardwaj uses synchopated melodies, powerful percussive elements, deep baselines, soft and gentle guitars, solo voices, and regional instrumentation to create a soundtrack that is complex, reflecting the many moods of the story and its characters. The powerhouse singers Vishal Dadlani, Sukhwinder Singh provide a contrast to the gently soothing voices of Arijit Singh, Rekha Bhardwaj, Suresh Wadkar, and Shraddha Kapoor. There is really only one Bollywood dance number and that is an epic production featuring intense choreography that tells the tale of murder most foul. This is a soundtrack that echoes in your soul.
You don't need to be well-versed on Shakespeare's Hamlet to appreciate Haider. If you are new to Bollywood, you might not catch the references to other Indian films and stars. In this case Indian actor Salman Khan gets a big nod. But even if you don't catch the Bollywood references or know the full story of Hamlet, you can appreciate the well-written narrative which weaves beauty and humor into a tragic story of broken relationships and unchecked power. You can easily see the sadness, madness, and vengeance devour the soul of a promising poet.
Haider's story is also the story of Kashmir, a beautiful region that has been devoured by ongoing wars, skirmishes and insurgencies. Fortunately, unlike the conclusion of Hamlet, Haider leaves open the potential for hopeful future possibilities.
Explore the trailer and posters for Haider, below.
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Read more about Haider in the following Storify which includes related tweets, images, videos and posts leading up to the launch of the film on 2 October 2014.