By Sneha Roychowdhury
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
He dragged his feet. Blood streaming down his face, wounded, scarred, staggering through corpses strewn on white beds of winter- and him staggering, wading through it. A wail resounds in the background, grief descending from the sky, wrapped in little flakes of freezing agony. This is the image Haider leaves you with- a broken man walking towards his demons, away from a battle both won and lost, away from the voice of vengeance and away from the shredded bits of a bloody past. An adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, ‘Haider’ is a rendition of immense intensity and pain, played out with a hint of melancholy, in the valleys of Kashmir- wafting through the narrow lanes, the little houses, the army trenches and the faceless graveyards. Based in the Kashmir of 1995, it is a tale of deceit, murder, vengeance, heart wrenching love and loss.
The movie depicts- through some satire and a great deal of intricacy- the situation in Kashmir during the separatist militancy and its consequent suppression by the Indian military and the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). The movie clearly highlights the situation of the civilians in those tormenting days of stifled suffering and constant fright. “Do haati jab ladti hai na, toh ghaas hi kuchli jaati hai.” Persecution and punishment to wean out insurgents, infliction of torture while interrogating the convicts and arbitrary detention by the armed forces form a very significant portion of this movie, rather successfully showing the realities of this abode of unfortunate thousands. Vishal Bhardwaj is delicate with his touch but forceful with the voice that runs through the scenes- each bringing out a new layer of the story, each striving to do justice to the issue this Shakespearean play is built into. His characters are powerful, his actors are skilled and his timing impeccable.
The riveting landscape is used to the storyteller’s advantage, autumn becoming a symbol of shedding hope and winter that of gruesome vengeance served cold. One voice of wisdom- that of Haider’s grandfather- echoes throughout the movie, as a reminder to the blood-lusting monsters running headlong into self-destruction. He fittingly describes Kashmir to be the land where days are guarded and nights are locked down; he talks of peace, of vengeance begetting vengeance and all the world burning in its own fire of rage. Tabu’s Ghazala reaches a height of admirable excellence, the pathos of her character augmented by her undeniable and unselfish love for her son, Haider, her bottled pains on neglect and guilt, her torn soul and her absolute devotion to the boy she brought up and had the courage to let go. Hers is the heart that feels the scathing pangs of separation, hers is the soul that realises the futility of the deaths around her and hers is the death that finally led to the opening of eyes and the ultimate misery- the one after which all other loss seemed in vain.
The revelation that was Shahid Kapur’s Haider, was a story of power, of conflict, of change and of slipping illusions. Through the disappearance and the consequent loss of his father, Haider’s story is a picture of all those who had lost their “love-ed” ones to the darkness of disappearance, dying each day, searching, waiting and craving- not knowing whether they are even dead or still breathing in a rancid cell of an obscure detention centre. Haider’s “chutzpah” also becomes a very prominent part of the movie’s fabric- commenting on the state of law and order and the implementation of justice in a land where bereavement and injustice have become a part of their reality.
The conclusion of the movie, heartbreaking as it may be, is rather befitting to me. It helps visualise the repercussions of modern day war- revolving around the idea of war spitting us all out, mangled and scarred, our insides ripped off and destroyed. As the protagonist walks into the darkness and the antagonist’s screeches ring through the valley of devastation, the movie comes to a full circle and the idea that “iteqam se sirf inteqam paida hoti hai” is finally acknowledged and held above the instinct to kill and exact revenge. And that is what this movie gave me- a story to carry with me, one that heaves my heart with sorrow, but through the ruins of the Kashmir of those times it shows me light. It gives me a message and tells me in all certainty that peace, and not war, is the answer to the lives and spirits lost in a fight.
Sneha Roychoudhury is a student of History with a passion for words and can be best described by the collection of books stacked on her shelves and the little doodles made on tattered ends of these volumes. She dreams, and she protects them in a lexical fortress- some of it built and quite some imagined. Music renders her free and literature entwines her being- each mending the chipped pieces of her imperfect soul. Travel and the written word are her soul mates, the world a box of woes and wonder and the untold stories of the nameless millions her singular passion.