Film Review: “Haider”

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Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Narendra Jha, Irrfan Khan
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Reviewed by Randeep Singh

This third adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedies by Vishal Bhardwaj is not a tragedy in the same way as the play from which it is adapted. The tragedy in “Hamlet” comes from the hero’s fatal flaw, his indecision whether to avenge his father’s murder and the needless deaths which result along the way. In Bhardwaj’s “Haider,” the title role (played by Shahid Kapoor) is unwavering in his determination to murder his uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), contending only with chance and circumstance. There is no fatal flaw in the character of Haider and no tragedy as such.

The tragedy in Haider is the tragedy of Kashmir, the backdrop against which this modern-day Indian adaptation is told. It’s no irony that we see elections being conducted in a land where the day’s rhythms are determined by curfews and where the call to prayer is drowned out by army loudspeakers. The tragedy is most poignantly rendered in Haider’s search for his father, one of the many “missing” fathers, sons and husbands in Kashmir. It is realized visually too through the film’s stunning cinematography, the pure snow of the valley speckled with blood, veiled by smoke, partitioned by barbed wire.

Kapoor captures Haider as a sensitive young poet in the earlier part of the film, but gives a less nuanced performance when Haider experiences episodes of madness. The stand-out performance in the film is that of Tabu as Ghazala who hauntingly portrays a woman torn by loyalty as a mother, a widow and a new wife. Kapoor and Tabu are supported by an excellent supporting cast, particularly Menon as Khurram and Narendra Jha as Haider’s father, Dr. Hilal Meer.

The film isn’t entirely stellar. The climax, while effective, almost turns comical with the transformation of three elderly gravediggers into militia men. The madness and suicide of the Ophelia-adapted character, Arshi (played by Shraddha Kapoor), is also so rushed that it never really sinks in. The tragedy though as Bhardwaj makes clear is not that of Arshi or even of Haider. In closing the film with Faiz Ahmad Faiz’ poem “Intesaab” (‘Dedication’), Bhardwaj’s “Haider” becomes a dedication to the congregation of mourning that is Kashmir, a tragedy awaiting its final curtain.

8.5/10

The State of Jammu & Kashmir vs. Union of India

Disclaimer: This is not a legal document, judgement or academic opinion on the legality of the accession of Kashmir to India but rather an attempt to bring together some facts and legal principles pertinent to the accession question and have the reader come to his or her own finding through further inquiry if necessary.

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Was the accession of Kashmir to India legal?

Facts

On August 14 and 15, 1947, India and Pakistan gain independence. The rulers of the 565 princely states of British India have to decide to join either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja Hari Singh is the ruler of the princely state of Kashmir and does not make a decision as to which country to join.

On October 22, 1947, Pathan tribesmen from Pakistan invade Kashmir. The Maharaja of Kashmir appeals to India for help.

On October 26, 1947, the Maharaja flees Kashmir and arrives in Jammu. Also on or about October 26, 1947, the Maharaja meets with a representative of the Indian Prime Minister and signs the Instrument of Accession. On October 27, 1947, India troops arrive in Srinagar (Kashmir). Recent British sources indicate that the Indian PM’s representative did not reach Jammu until the morning of October 27, 1947 by which time Indian troops were already arriving in Srinagar.

Issues:

  1. Did the Maharaja act of a free mind when he signed the Accession?
  2. Did the surrounding circumstances influence the Maharaja’s decision?
  3. If so, did those circumstances influence the Maharaja’s decision-making ability in such a way that he cannot be said to have acted of a free mind?

The Law

I look at three legal principles relevant to the issues above.

The question of duress: duress is legally defined as a situation where one party exerts pressure unlawfully on another party to compel that party to do something that he or she would ordinarily not do. For duress to apply against India, India would have had to have done something unlawful, such as threaten to use violence against the Maharaja, his family or threaten to seize his property and hold it ransom. The use of suggestion or persuasion on the part of India does not qualify as duress.

The question of undue influence: undue influence occurs in relationships where one party exerts pressure on a weaker party so as to overpower the will of that weaker party and thereby induce an agreement. In this case, India would have had to do something to influence the Maharaja – including making military aid to him conditional upon his signing the accession instrument – which was short of actual force, but stronger than mere talk, resulting in the signing of the accession.

The question of unconscionability: an unconscionable transaction is an agreement that no right-minded would ever make and no fair-minded person would ever accept. In this case, there would have to be an inequality in the bargaining power between India and the Maharaja of Kashmir. If there was, then the Maharaja also would have had to have made an improvident bargain, that is he would have had to sign the accession (for military aid) without proper regard for the future.

If that were the case, there arises a legal presumption of unconscionability against India which India would have to rebut.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:

Ganguly, Sumit, “Conflict and Crisis in South and Southwest Asia”, in Michael E. Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict, Cambridge, MA:  The MIT Press, 1996a, pp. 141-172.

Ganguly, Sumit, “Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay”, International Security, vol. 21, no. 2, Fall 1996b.