India Bound

india_censored

Written by Randeep Singh

The film Haider was released on October 2, 2014. The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the violent backdrop of Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Among other things, Haider looks at the atrocities of the Indian army. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in India this year.

On October 15, 2014, the Allahabad High Court issued notices to, among others, the film’s director, director and actors to respond to a petition. The petition was filed by the Hindu Front for Justice an organization which seeks to restrain the film’s screening on the basis that it insults the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India.

How does a film like Haider endanger the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India? Aren’t India’s restrictions on the freedom of expression, such as national security, public order and incitement to violence,  sufficient to deal with problems that may otherwise imperil the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India?

The “sovereignty, integrity and unity” limitation on freedom of expression merely enables the Indian power to curb any thought or opinion it deems “anti-national.” And what is more cherished to the Indian nationalist mythology than the idea that India is a benign, secular democracy, a view questioned by Haider?

In its stamping out of ideas, thoughts or opinions, which just may have a ring or truth to them, the Indian state privileges the right of an ambiguous and undefined the “nation” over those of democracy which relies on a free flow of ideas. The result is a narrowing of the Indian mind.

If Haider is restrained from playing in Indian cinemas, the Indian state and its fascist enthusiasts will have again (as they have done before with M.F. Hussain, Deepa Mehta, Sonali Bose, Arundhati Roy, Wendy Doniger) have privileged the rights of the “nation” over those of Indians themselves.

Film Review: “Haider”

haider 1
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