[Edited version of mail written to a couple of friends on 14 Oct 2014]
One set of people have been disappointed because they feel/ think Haider is not an authentic adaptation of Hamlet. The other set of people have been disappointed because Haider fails to represent the authentic Kashmiri experience.
Haider stands on the shoulder of Hamlet, yes. But is Haider actually Hamlet? No. Is Haider expected to be Hamlet? No. [Opinions are strictly personal] So when Haider stands on the shoulder of Hamlet he is a few inches closer to the sky and few inches distant from the soil. Meaning Haider will have his/ its own brilliance and his/ its own limitations. And adaptation is retelling and like any story being retold it undergoes change. To look for Hamlet in Haider is an un-required exercise it appears to me. Even the best of adaptations [example in mind Charulatha] move away from the original. So trying to look for every written word in every frame is, forgive the harsh remark, an immature act.
Having said all of this I must say that when Haider stands on the shoulder of Hamlet the directions in which Haider can move and the distance that Haider can cover is decided by and dependent on Hamlet.
Coming to the depiction of Kashmir. I agree that Haider doesnt do complete justice to the issue of Kashmir. But Haider is located in Kashmir and is not about Kashmir. Plus Haider has a framework of Hamlet to work within and it is not a pamphlet for aazaadi. With my complete solidarity with aazaadi I wouldnt expect Haider to pick up the issue of aazaadi in it because the film is about Haider and not liberation of Kashmir. There are questions like, “Then why choose Kashmir as the setting?” Well, the answer can be nothing but, “Why not?” Given that he chose Kashmir and understanding that the film is not about Kashmir but just set in Kashmir and is working within the boundaries of Hamlet, lets see what does it speak of Kashmir and how does it speak of Kashmir.
Haider speaks of Kashmir like no other Bombay cinema ever did. It speaks of the half widows, it speaks of Papa2 [though it sounds yuck as Mama 2 in the film], it speaks of the kind of tortures inflicted on innocents by the army, it speaks of AFSPA… God!!! And for the nation for which the issue of Kashmir is just a one line argument of “Doodh maangogey to kheer dengey, Kashmir maangogey toh cheer dengey,” and for the nation for which Kashmir means a beautiful backdrop with which Shammi Kapoor sings, “Yahoo“, “Aye gulbadan,” Priety Zinta sings “Chup ke se sun” to Hritik, Manisha Lamba sings, “kal jo miley toh maathey pe merre sooraj ugaa dena,” to Jimmy Shergil or Anushka sings, “Chali re“, the Kashmir that Haider offers is more close to reality and actually subverts all the above mentioned images.
Kashmir bleeds wherever you touch it. And in Haider we see Kashmir bleed. Though it doesnt capture the violence of Kashmir in its entirety the film does speak of the violence in Kashmir in an authentic way where we can feel the texture of it. The film doesnt reduce Kashmir to a mere setting a mere backdrop but genuinely speaks of Kashmir and speaks for Kashmir.
Adapting Shakepeare is to limiting oneself and also burden oneself. Locating it in Kashmir is limiting oneself and burdening oneself further. To this problem there are other problems that the filmmaker has. It is produced by UTV. It needs to be cleared by the censor board. It needs to be released in India which just voted a fascist. Within these constraints what Haider manages to speak of Kashmir and subvert the bollywood images of Kashmir is worth appreciating. And pushing the envelop by even a few inches more would have stopped the film from censor certification, it appears to me.
For all those complaining about it not being an authentic representation of Kashmir which other film would have the chutzpah to have the Lal Chowk soliloquy? That scene according to me is the most daring moment of Indian cinema and undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments of Indian cinema. It is brilliant for it makes the law and AFSPA like an utterance of madness! It reaches a peak and turns a tragic absurd when Haider’s monologue is broken by the people who shout “aazaadi” the moment Haider, in his flow of soliloquy, asks, “humse kisi ne poocha hum kya chaahtey?” MY GOD! Then suddenly the filmmaker turns the soliloquy into slogans! The only way to end the madness is by joining voice with the rest and speaking of liberation! Haider stands for Kashmir and stands for aazaadi, as I read this scene in its details.
There is another soliloquy which is just brilliant! Its soon after the song “Khul Kabhi Toh.” Haider breaks into tears soon after making love to his partner. From one level of intensity to another level of intensity. The shift choked me. But there lies the truth of Haider to me. He breaks into tears and his partner tries to calm him. That is when he has a soliloquy, “Shaq pe aata hai yakeen mujhe, yakeen pe aata hai shaq. Roohdaar ke afsaane pe yakeen karoon ki chaacha ki jhoot pe shaq...” Now there lies the tragedy of Haider and also the tragedy of Kashmir. In the tug-of-war who to believe and who not to believe? Who to trust and who not to trust while being pulled from two opposite sides at the same time? The tragedy of Haider and the tragedy of Kashmir is the death of trust, collapse of faith.
There is a kind of soliloquy by Roohdaar too which is also brilliant. [“Main rooh… Tu faani, main laa-faani… Main shia bhi hoon, main sunni bhi. Main pandith. Main tha, hoon aur main hee rahoonga“] It is also brilliant because Roohdaar gets a body in Haider while in Hamlet he is a ghost. If naming him Roohdaar was a stroke of brilliance the very way in which he becomes a human and becomes the voice of the dead is brilliance at its best.
All the actors are brilliant [well lets give Shradha Kapoor a bit of margin]. But as I expected it to be the hero of the film according to me is Basharat Peer as the writer of the film. He also plays a small role of the one who cant enter his own house without being checked. He tears a few pages of his brilliant Curfewed Night and pastes it in between the screenplay, but he does it beautifully.
Even if the film was to be bad, I would have gone and watched it for the second time just and just for BISMIL!!! What a song. What a beautiful choreography. What beautiful picturization! What a moment that was. The tension, the aggression all captured so well! And that song is so beautifully composed. The way it drops at, “zakhmi nar ko qaid kiya,” and rises at, “kashmeer ke paani ki taaseerien,” after that turbulent, “jehelum jehelum laal laal hua laal laal hua laal laal hua laal…” is out of the world. It has an auditory imagination to it!
I cant get over Arjit singing Faiz’s Gulon mein rang bhare… I like it also because they do not start with the matlaa but start with my fav couplet of that gazal: badaa hai dard ka rishta yeh dil gareeb sahi… And the way he sings, “jo hum pe guzree so guzree magar shab-e-hijraan, hamaare ashq teri aaqibat sanwaar chaley…” Aaah!!! It kills me!!!
Then there is Khul Kabhi Toh… At the age of 80 Gulzar writes such a beautiful semi-erotic song!!! Hello… Where should young writers like me bury our heads out of shame?? Aanaa zaraa zaraa main haule haule saans saans senk doon tujhey… Really???!!! At 80!!!?? GULZAR IS SOMETHING!!!
But one line which captures Kashmir and Haider is Jehelum Jehelum Doondey Kinaaraa... It captures the desperation, desire and despair so well… in JUST one line!
The ending has something dark to say about Kashmir. The reality of Kashmir might make you a militant or might not [Haider not killing Khurram] But it will certainly leave you insane. You cant escape losing your mind. Boss, that is a poetic way of speaking the truth of Kashmir to me.
Once, several years ago, Samik Bandhyopadhyaya along with Mrinal Sen went to meet Ritwik Ghatak [4 Nov 1925- 6 Feb 1976] to request him to write a piece for a magazine which Samik Da was editing then. Ritwik Ghatak not just agreed to write but also made suggestions on how the overall issue of the magazine should be like.
While speaking to Samik Da and Mrinal Sen all of a sudden Ritwik Ghatak had tremors and collapsed on the floor. His forehead started to bleed. Frightened by this Samik Da and Mrinal Sen called Surama Ghatak [Ritwik Ghatak’s wife] Picking Ritwik Ghatak from the floor, along with Samik Da and Mrinal Sen, Surama Ghatak told said that whenever he [Ritwik Ghatak] stopped consuming alcohol the body reacted in such a manner.
Ritwik Ghatak was taken to the hospital immediately where he was kept in the psychiatric ward as he also had to undergo psychiatric treatment.
Samik Da realized that it was impossible to get Ritwik Ghatak’s article now. But the magazine office sent a card of request to Ritwik Ghatak, as a matter of procedure as his name was on the list, specifying the deadline.
After a couple of weeks when Samik Da entered his cabin in the office he was surprised to see Ritwik Ghatak’s article on his table. When inquired he found out that Ritwik Ghatak had been just discharged from the hospital and on his way back home from the hospital he had submitted his article for the magazine. He had written the article while in the hospital.
The article was titled ‘Sound in Films’ which features in his collection of essays ‘Cinema and I which was later republished as ‘Rows and Rows of Fences’.
Having heard Samik Da narrate this incident over a cup of chai in Heggodu [October 2010] I exclaimed, “He wrote about sound in what is known as an unsound state of mind.” Samik Da, adjusting his specs, said, “And that is a very sound piece on sound,” and after a pause added, “That was Ghatak.”
That, indeed, was Ghatak!
[The title of the blog is taken from an essay by Safdar Hashmi]