Friday, October 3, 2014

Chutzpah in Tragedy

And then, while you were lying low, engulfed with the inertia of penlessness, comes a piece of artistic grandeur which cajoles you into putting words together and shooting them out in the world. I witnessed today the sublimity of darkness, and the pure art that emanates from there. Never have I been impacted with the dark as I was today. Thrill hid inside each minute which unfolded to reveal a darker shade of human emotions, and all this, before I had arrived at a complete understanding of the plotline.

I have not read Hamlet, and I knew little about it before watching Haider. Dragging my reluctant body for the first day, first show of the film seemed like a torture - also because I am not one of those who loads her head with tragic tales shown in screechingly over-blown proportions on the screen. And Haider was supposed to be that. It was an adaptation of the darkest and the most tragic of Shakespearean dramas, promising depressiveness; but it turned out to be a perfectly chiselled product of extremely high class cinematic thought, a courageous combination of beauty and annihilation.

The plotline of Hamlet is famous - let us fit some Kashmiri names into it. Haider returns to his Kashmiri homeland to avenge the death of his father, Dr. Hilal Meer. Upon his return, he finds his widowed mother, Ghazala sharing some banter with his father brother, Khurram Meer. Khurram, who also harbours political ambitions is also Hilal's murderer - as is revealed to Haider by Roohdaar - a ghost, or spirit identity in the story. The ghost urges Haider to avenge his father's murder, and thereafter events unfold to grow towards the greatest tragic end that Bollywood has ever seen.

The characterisations are pitch-perfect, and I was bowled over by performances by Tabu and Shahid. For me, probably, they served as the lead pair, with clear sexual tension marking their relationship. Tabu played Haider's mother, and the existence of Oedipal undertones was pointed out to me by Neha - a core thread of the story which became all too apparent by the end. Shahid has outdone himself, especially in his portrayal of obsessive behaviour bordering on delusion and dementia. There is a scene in which Shahid delivers a mono-act speech on a Chowk  - and I am still in disbelief about the superlative theatre skills he put on display. This man managed to match up to Tabu in each scene - no mean feet there!

How Vishal Bhardwaj wove the geographical and cultural topography of Kashmir into the literary stream of a Victorian play is something I am still at odds to understand. Needlessly said, it appears, as thought the central narrative of the tragedy was crafted for a Kashmiri setting exclusively. The songs, background, depiction, attires, art, characters - all give you a very authentic taste of the land, which encases not just natural beauty, but a very distinctive culture of its own. Culture, and devastation - Vishal Bhardwaj is the genius who probably knows how to find beautiful ways of depicting the same. The whole movie, itself, could be called devastatingly beautiful. When you hear the word 'Chutzpah' being used to explain AFSPA, you know you are being exposed to subtle, dark humour.


There is so much from the film which refuses to leave my mind! The white attire of Irrfan Khan, alluding to his ghost-like interjection in the plot. The dilemmas faces by each character, and how tragic fate overtakes their minds. The many shades of Tabu's countenance - her struggle to be the woman who could control situations, but fails upon trying too hard. The hauntingly beautiful music! The theatrical performance put together by Shahid to recreate the tail of his father's death in the song Bismil.

And, to top it all, there was Faiz's poetry. So much about the story, the human condition, and the human conflict can be understood by listening to and absorbing Gulon Mein Rang Bhare and Hum Dekhenge. If Shakespeare lived in Kashmir, probably he would not have been able to put together this intense, dark melody, painfully beautiful to the eyes and soul. I have never reviewed a movie earlier, but if I were to review this one, 5 on 5 stars for me, and standing ovation to go with it.

PS - If you have not, listen to 'Aaj Ke Naam' sung by Rakha Bhardwaj on priority. Like, now. 

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