Sunday, October 5, 2014

Haider, I am using Chutzpah!

*Spoilers Abound*

I went in hesitant. The reviewers have generally been quite liberal in showering stars on Vishal Bhardwaj's films in the past, even the ones that don't deserve them like 7 Khoon Maaf, Matru and Dedh Ishqiya (Co-Writer). They were all praised heavily by these fanboy critics but frankly, all three failed to live up to VB’s stature as an auteur. Hence the reluctance.

But Haider delivered, and how! Shahid had not been able to find his footing since Kaminey (Saif still hasn’t since Omkara, doing Fucktails and Humfuckalls) and came Vishal to the rescue. Phata poster actually nikla hero! A man I otherwise refuse to call a decent actor delivers his career best performance that includes a masterfully written, exquisitely choreographed and quite mesmerizingly spoken monologue at Lal Chowk that shattered the political boundaries hitherto untouched in Indian Cinema. Bravo!

And mind you, this is a post-41-CBFC-demanded-cuts-U/A version that we saw, imagine how ballsy and politically incorrect the director’s cut would have been!

दिल की गर सुनूँ तो है ...दिमाग़ की तो है नहीं
जान लूं के जान दूं...मैं रहूं के मैं नहीं
I think no other director has come this close to having this perfect a trilogy as Maqbool, Omkara & Haider (except maybe Linklater). Shakespeare would have been so proud! He is read/researched the world over, there are innumerable retellings of his works, in every nation every director worth his salt has gotten inspired from his writings but I do not think anyone has adapted him so effortlessly into the earthy stories of a nation as diverse as India (Mumbai Underworld, UP's hinterland and now the war ravaged Kashmir). Sanjay Leela Bhansali, shove your Goliyo ki Rasleela in a place where the sun don’t shine.

How do you adapt a play about the vengeful prince of the rotten state of Denmark written in the late 15th century and weave the blood-curdling(wink wink) story of Kashmir in it so beautifully! It takes genius, it takes craftsmanship and above all it takes a very basic but incisively deep understanding of human emotions. For example, one such stroke of genius is evident when you see the famous soliloquy been written as a post coitus dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia sprinkled with some very nuanced humour (Bastar-ad!).

The casting is a dream come true! I had been dying to see Kay Kay Menon in a Vishal 'Bard'waj film and the wait was totally worth it. His Claudius is so disgustingly knave. When he says 'Baabijaan hai wo meri', you reflexively blurt out a gaali!

Irrfan Khan, making a Taali&Seeti deserving entry as the ghost gives such an understated performance in such short screen time. Look at those eyes. 

Tabu (who, in a parallel universe is as famous and honoured as Ms Streep), gives a haunting performance as a half-bewa. She embodies the woman who wants love & a peaceful home, not the idealism of her husband. I found her character very close to Lady Macbeth (is she born to play these grey shaded Shakespearean heroines?). The heightened eroticism between Haider and Ghazala has been handled with such delicacy by both these actors! That peck on Haider’s lips was such a viciously beautiful thing she did! Lillah. 

I am going a little off-track here but I have to mention that Yahaan was the first film that made me realise how horrendous the state of Kashmir was. One scene has stuck in my mind ever since, where Minisha Lamba (Once the innocent Adaa of Yahaan, now frolicking around in Big Boss 8, sigh!) asks Jimmy Shergil, “Tum kahaan se ho?” “Pune”, he says. “Vahaan bhi kya din raat goliyo aur dhamaako ki aawajein sunaayi deti hai?” she asks. “Nahi, vahaan ke haalaat aise nahi hai.” He says.

“Tumko ajeeb nahi lagta?” she asks, bemused. It had become so normal for her to listen to the distant gunshots and shelling that life without it seemed strange to her.

Haider takes it to a new level altogether telling you the stories of the thousands of disappeared men labelled falsely as terrorists and then buried into mass graves identified with numerals instead of epitaphs, and the hundreds of Haiders who went searching for them and in the journey either ended up in one of the unmarked graves or crossed the borders and became Mujahideens.

Partition (and consequently, Kashmir) is a tragedy equivalent to Holocaust, but how many films have we made on it since independence. 60 years and barely a handful of sensible films like RojaPinjar, Tahaan or the more artsy ones like Inshaallah,Kashmir/Football, Harud and Valley of Saints. We have trivialised it more (Jab tak hai jaanMaa Tujhe Salaam, Mission Kashmir, Gadar) in our mainstream cinema than looking at it with a humanitarian lens. As Joker would have said, Kashmir’s tragedy deserves a better class of mainstream films. I personally wasn't aware of the existence of Ikhwaan-ul-Muslimoon or Anantnag being also known as Islamabad or that AFSPA made Jhelum our Seine for disposing off the bodies of the so called militants. This film has already triggered so many conversations about Kashmir which we otherwise wouldn't have bothered to have. That’s the power of good cinema, it stirs your soul. It makes you read up shit, compels you to know more about the history and context and in that process, makes a better human being out of you.
"Ro lo Haider..."
The Army signpost standing in the top-right corner of a frame in one scene read, “When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” That’s exactly what Mr Bhardwaj does in Haider. For the 161 minutes of its running time, he doesn't let us wander. The juxtaposition of the picturesque valley in the background to the skull crushed bodies lying beside Jhelum (Pankaj Kumar's splendid camera work), the son searching for his father exchanging sympathies with an old lady on a similar quest in a bustling police station, innocent men being paraded in front of the army while Salman Khan obnoxiously demands a kiss from Manisha Koirala on the theatre screen or the three gravediggers wailing Aao Naa amidst ominous guitar riffs or 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern rolled into one' getting a 'kick' out of mimicking the 'Bhai' of our times or 'Roohdar' frisking the man (played by the film's co-writer Basharat Peer) reluctant to enter his own home or the pitch perfect accents and enunciation of the entire cast (Sirinagar, Kalashanikov), he keeps us hooked. He keeps us amused and thinking. Thinking, about the state of Kashmir, about the trials and tribulations of the youth of Kashmir during insurgency. Thinking, about how small our problems are compared to what people in the valley have suffered through. No, we don’t get to complain. We have no right whatsoever to crib. Tragedy is a word many miles away from our life, towards the north.

Yes this film doesn't highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits (except a passing reference to Kaul Saab shifting to Mumbai. Read a beautiful account of it from one Mr Raina here.) Yes this film probably doesn't show you the complete truth but that doesn't make this truth any less truer. Every truth, every story deserves to be told. We would probably need a million films to tell every story from the valley but it has to start somewhere. Haider is that start. A very important start. Go watch it and get a real ‘bang’ for your buck.

"जिनकी आँखों के गुल,
चिलमनो और दरीचो की बेलों पे
बेकार खिल खिल के मुरझा गये हैं,
उन ब्याहताओं के नाम ..."

And before I wind up, a word for Gulzar Saab - “Sir, Aap God hain!”

- Avinash Verma . Follow on twitter at 

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