Sunday, 12 October 2014

5 Reasons to See 'Haider' [SPOILER ALERT -- but it's 'Hamlet', for chrissakes]

1. Vishal Bhardwaj & Basharat Peer

'Haider' is Bhardwaj's third film adaption of Shakespeare after 2003's 'Maqbool' (MacBeth) and 2006's 'Omkara' (Othello). For 'Haider', Bhardwaj sets 'Hamlet' within a rarely told exploration of Kashmir's mid-'90s violence and upheaval. 'Haider' co-writer Basharat Peer is the author of Curfewed Night, a critically acclaimed memoir based on Peer's experiences as a Kashmiri native. Many directors would read Peer's work and take 'inspiration' from it without crediting the author. Bhardwaj is secure enough to not only place his Hamlet adaptation into the Kashmir described in Peer's book but bring Peer on-board to co-write his film. Their collaboration makes 'Haider' a unique success, as Bhardwaj exploits the natural beauty of Kashmir as other Indian directors have done but Peer provides the unacknowledged (by Bollywood, anyway) ugliness of Kashmir's recent past ... all while infusing one of Western civilisation's most famous tales of familial f*ckedupness into its plot.

2. The acting of Tabu, Shahid Kapoor & Kay Kay Menon.

Tabu & Shahid Kapoor
I've been a fan of Tabu's since her performance in Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake in 2007. She's a well-known Indian actress but not Famous, meaning her renown comes from acting, not item numbers. For the sake of this film the age of her Ghazala/Gertrude is signficant, as at 42 she's only 9 years older than the actor playing her adult son, Shahid Kapoor. This was clearly deliberate, as Haider doesn't hold back from the slightly Oedipean relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude, his duplicitous mother. Tabu simmers throughout the film, a roiling boil beneath a beautifully composed face.

I've always considered Kapoor more of a haircut than an actor but as Haider/Hamlet he literally shears his wavy locks and makes a herculean effort to embody the surging madness of a man tasked with avenging his father's death. Kapoor's physicality serves him well, as this adaptation of Hamlet provides a backstory the original does not, and he succeeds at expressing equal parts love and loathing for his mother.

Kay Kay Menon
Without question Kay Kay Menon gave the film's best performance. I kept thinking throughout 'Haider' that Menon was BORN to play Claudius, Hamlet's scheming, soulless uncle. His character's name is Khurram here and he's deeply enmeshed in Kashmiri military politics but his two-faced wickedness, crocodile tears and subtle lasciviousness for Ghazala made me want to mimic patrons of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and throw rotten vegetables at the Highpoint screen. Hindi cinema has long revered villains in films -- awards shows often have 'Best Villian' categories -- and Claudius has been the template of villainy for over 500 years. To me, Menon's Khurram is a worthy successor to the thousands of Claudius's who've come before.

3. This.

All the cliches of Bollywood are on display and absolutely essential here. Why? Because no one, in any film industry, does dance numbers better than Indian filmmakers. In the case of 'Bismil', where Haider confronts Khurram and Ghazala with the truth about his father's murder, everything about the scene is perfect. No CGI, no massive soundstage ... just a bloody fantastic song and dance number (sung by Sukhwinder Singh, a favourite of mine) filmed on location in a land fought over for centuries not for strategic importance, but natural and spiritual beauty.

4. The two Salmans.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are familiar to fans of Hamlet as conniving courtiers sent by the king to spy on his vengeful stepson. In 'Haider' they're unforgettable as a pair of Salman Khan wannabes who run a pirated video shop and dress like a Khan character from a 1994 Bollywood smash called Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Again, the norm for any 'serious' Bollywood film is to dilute the darkness with colossally moronic bad guys who dump -- really bad -- slapstick humour to every imaginable scenario. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the two Salmans are minor characters but, with Bhardwaj at the helm, are used sparingly to lighten a darkening plot. Their screen time is limited but they remain memorable.

5. Films this good MUST be rewarded.

It's pointless to compare 'Haider' to commercial Bollywood films but its release on Oct 2 coincided with a big-budget B-wood film called 'Bang Bang', so I will. For every height reached by 'Haider', 'Bang Bang' flagrantly disregards, instead tumbling into Bollywood stereotype: It steals from an unimaginative Hollywood film called 'Knight and Day'; it stars two of the best-looking people on the planet whose acting talents, sadly, go spray-tan-deep; it's loud, silly, violent and ultimately meaningless, and happily so, as this is what self-proclaimed Indian movie executives believe guarantee good opening box office.

And they're right. 'Bang Bang' is the fifth highest opening film in Indian cinema history.

OF COURSE there's a place for films like 'Bang Bang', just like there's a place for McDonald's fast food. But just as the Golden Arches represent the worst of American consumerism, mindless nonsense like 'Bang Bang' represents all of Indian cinema to those outside India. 'Bang Bang' has unsurprisingly trounced 'Haider' at the box office, even though Haider's been lauded by critics and is getting a boost from word-of-mouth. From Times of India:
According to a report in, Bang Bang raked in approximately Rs 4 crores on its second Friday. The film has certainly made its way to the top as the total domestic BO collection stands at Rs 139.45 crores. ​While this is touted as a big release, the report further adds that the film is soon set to cross the Rs 150 crore mark in the domestic market.

On the other hand, the Shahid Kapoor starrer Haider is impressing audiences. An adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Haider is also going steady at the box office. A report in adds that the film in its first week run raked in Rs 41.36 crores at the domestic box office and in the overseas market, has managed to do a business of Rs 10.43 crores. Overseas, the film stands at a total collection of 1.9 million USD.

Both Haider and Bang Bang released on October 2 and while Bang Bang has done in terms of BO collections, Haider is being lauded and the word of mouth publicity seems to be working in the film's favour.
Note how 'word of mouth publicity' is close to a pejorative in Indian filmspeak, as if the ability to draw positive attention without Hrithik Roshan and/or Katrina Kaif losing his/her clothes is second-rate.

The guy flipping burgers at Mickey D's doesn't care if his burgers taste good or hold nutritional value. He only cares that you buy them and he gets paid. 'Haider' ain't a hamburger and its creators didn't do so for financial gain. All the more reason for their film to be rewarded by YOU while it's still in cinemas.

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