There was a reason why Shakespeare carved the crown of a tragic hero atop a King- for, contemporary England witnessed a most bloody and conspiring game of thrones. For, the fall of this individual tumbles the town. Precisely as Ghazala (Tabu) presages, “Ghar nahin, aap poora gaav jalaoge”. Vishal Bhardwaj’s proclivity for adaptation lay in the transference of not content, but context- from the territorial tension between Denmark and Norway to the internal conflict between the militants and the Indian military force, from the Elizabethan Hamlet to the Indian Haider. He will also not hesitate from breaking conventional norms by introducing the protagonist through the dialogue of another character- keeping in line with the Shakespearean signature of creating on-stage presence of the protagonist while keeping the actor off-stage. The setting is further deepened through the development of the visual image of the river Jhelum as a metaphorical tale of loss of and quest for the missing in militant Kashmir. The well-choreographed montages for the song establish the protagonist’s angst as representative of an entire state’s collective woes. No place else is the repercussion of political instability at the top manifested on the ground realities than in Kashmir. An adaptation of this manner carries a special magnitude for, Bharadwaj truly succeeds in making Shakespeare both relevant and timeless.
The Oedipus Complex encompassed in the character and motivation of Hamlet emerges in nuanced and shrewdly directed shots- when young Haider (Anshuman Malhotra) creeps between the blanket in his parents’ bed, when he dabs perfume on his mother’s neck and kisses it, the first dialogue between adult Haider (Shahid Kapur) and his mother as an accusation of her sexual betrayal to his father, the endearing term “Jana” used to call the son. The scene at the center of the flower strewn path showcases a shadow of ambivalence in the intention of the mother figure- whether she awaits the father’s return or the father’s corpse.
The repeated shots of the burnt down house is symbolic of the underlying intention of the play- to deromanticize the idea and concept of the family, to raise the curtain on the ugly underbelly of desires and ambitions that betray honest vows and pious bonds. It therefore stands ironical that Ghazala is shown teaching her class of young, innocent babes the conventional, textbook definitions of a house- caring, loving, protecting.
The character of Ophelia essayed by Shraddha Kapoor (as Arshia) was left to be developed at the hands of the script writers completely since the Bard left her role to the bare margins. Here, she offers her lovelorn lip to purge Haider of his grief, becomes his woman to mark his manhood and sexual fantasies, displays fearful naivety in revealing Haider before her father.
The twin characters of Salman (Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat) work as effective cast members- ghosts of Rosencratz and Guildenstern- they bear the appearances of fools innocuously emulating their Bollywood idol Salman Khan and thereby provide comic relief. Yet, the theme of appearance and reality is well wielded even in these characters since they are also acting as spies for Pervez (Lalit Parimoo), Arshia’s father.
Shakespeare’s King Claudius and Bharadwaj’s Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) and his rise to power juxtaposed with the Bhan performance playing out the hope for a new Kashmir is deeply ironical. Now, the film reaches the point of revelation where the well-guarded veils and illusions begin to disintegrate- the promised political freedom for Kashmir, Ghazala’s warm veneer of trust and virtue, Haider’s controlled and restrained form of revenge/anger. The close-up shot of Ghazala with the unmistakable smile of accomplishment is in sharp contrast to the appearance of the suffering “half widow” of the preceding scenes. Also significant change to note is that the frame has now replaced the vulnerable son with the lusty lover.
Irrfan Khan’s special appearance- “Main doctor ki ruh hoon” is very significant since it is an Allusion and homage to the significant character of the Ghost in the original play- the message of avenging the man and beckoning mercy for the woman- similar to the sympathetic attitude of The Ghost towards Gertrude who, according to him, has a weak constitution. This Ghost in Shakespeare is constructed in the same vein as the three witches of Macbeth- they are characters that are deliberately of ambiguous origin and identity. This allows the creation of the internal conflict in the protagonist’s mind- the dramatic struggle between good and evil. In the context of Hamlet, it is the suspicious presence of the Ghost (and the passionate persuasion of Roohdar) that creates the doubt in the mind of the audience about the hero’s true motivation- revenge for his father or sexual envy over his mother, external circumstance or internal vice.
The transformation of the central character is effective for, here the madness that Hamlet is allegedly affected with is brought to the fore. Of course, it is the metaphorical madness of betrayal, incestuous relationships, violence, oppression and political conspiracy. Thus, the existential question, “To be or not to be?” is echoed alongside the successive list of constitutional articles and amendments- for in Bharadwaj’s stage, Haider is not the story of individual angst but a political drama of democratic and diplomatic failure. It questions the historical position of Kashmir in time and the collective aspirations of the common man in India and Pakistan.
The Bhan performance led by Haider serves the purpose of the metanarrative strand in the original Elizabethan script. The authentic cultural identification mirrors the strength of art as a powerful commentator on life and reality. Significantly, this role play establishes the lonely, isolated position of Haider versus the personal and political relationships around him. For, he is the sole writer and director of this play within a play.
The icy, cold setting of the graveyard and the morbid mood of the dug graveyards and the lyrical almost soothing invitation to the other side of life- foreshadows the series of deaths that will ensue in the climax of the film. The playful, humorous tone with which death is being discussed captures the vision of the original playwright- the human folly of assuming life to be grave and worthy. A flickering candle, a fleeting dream, a vision of dust- that is it, in candid, simple words; the truth of life in a nutshell- the meaning and purpose of life. The use of silence during the significant death of Ghazala reduces elements of life to a conundrum of s