Haider (2014) Movie Review: The Return Of The Bard

Language : Hindi | Running Time : 162 Minutes | Director : Vishal Bhardwaj 

Irrfan Khan as Roohdhar, making a special appearance, dressed in white and sporting black goggles, walks onto the screen, mist clearing and I was reminded of a heroine walking into a hero’s life in our movies from the 80s. If not the same, the scene surely brings a similar effect on us. We are left gasping at the majestic beauty of the shot, the exhilarating bass and electric guitars of “Aao Na” announcing his presence. It is right there with some of the best intros I’ve seen in Indian cinema, because it elevates a simple intro into one filled with mystery and a desire to follow the man ourselves. It is something that draws whistles, claps and heightens our frenzy and Vishal Bhardwaj’s “Haider” will ask you the question, “To be or not to be” in every scene it throws at you.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s “Haider”, a faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, revolves primarily on Haider’s Oedipus Complex and his quest to find his dad, take revenge against the people who’ve wronged him. Haider(Shahid) returns home on learning his dad, a doctor, has been taken away by the Indian Army for harboring and treating a terrorist. Vishal Bhardwaj, insists on establishing the political conflict of Kashmir before treating us to Haider’s personal crisis, which is in this case very much linked to the demography’s politics, much like Hansal Mehta’s “Shahid” where Shahid’s life changes after being arrested under TADA.

Haider-Tabbu-Gun-SceneThe militarisation of Kashmir and the after effects of it, the ever present doubt and deceit is brought out in a series of episodes. One particular impressive scene is when a man is found staring at the door of his house and enters inside only once he is body searched and questioned the way the Army personnel do in the area. It is funny but also very much a telling state of affairs. Bhardwaj understands the demography and for a time we are lost in how detailed and well thought out this adaptation of political conflict is. But also, there is a point where it is overpowering, where it takes our mind off the Oedipus Complex and Haider’s thirst for revenge and in that moment I wondered how different the film would be if it had the same setting as Shahid and focussed more on the intricacies of the relationships of the characters and confrontation between Khurram Meer(Kay Kay Menon), Claudius of Hamlet, and Haider. It would have been a more enriching personal tale but it wouldn’t have possibly had the same grave tension and bleakness. It is in this stroke, that Bhardwaj establishes his genius. By placing the struggle in Kashmir, he elevates the films grimness, making Haider’s quest more demanding and death more easily viable.

“Haider” follows Hamlet’s story dutifully. It follows the general outline for the characters where-in Claudius dethrones King Hamlet and marries his wife Gertrude. Prince Hamlet, suffering from Oedipus complex struggles to come to terms with this and also suspecting foul play, questions the castle ghost to learn the truth. He then plots his revenge, with the dilemma of “to be or not to be” plaguing him. Haider, to this extent is the same. Basharat Peer and Bhardwaj have molded this moral dilemma poetically. There is a a scene in the public square where Haider “performs” in front of the public, seeking an independent Kashmir but largely struggling to come to terms with “hum hain ki nahi”. Shahid Kapoor excels in this histrionic passage, working the demons that plague Haider and seeking resolution. Like in a street play, the stage is set and the mono act conforms to establish the masterful adaptation of the predicament. The intermixing of Kashmir’s conflict with its statehood and his own quandary is highlighted in great fashion. With Gulzar’s poetry as songs and the writing in general, the marriage of personal and political conflict is powerfully affecting. The primary reason why “Haider” works so well is that it understands the sticky struggle and we are drawn to both like how fear is ever pervading in the region.

“Haider” is filled with some intriguingly staged scenes. The scene where Haider drops down on his chacha’s place and finds him courting his mother is so lovely that it had me in a trance, much like how Haider’s stunned expression. Khurram sings off tune, making Ghazala laugh like a woman in love and the festive nature of their behaviour, instead of mourning the loss of a brother and husband is brought to us through a screen, shrouding the truth both literally and metaphorically. It is like a veil being lifted off after years and the truth both difficult to digest or ignore. The “Bismil” song is another example where Bhardwaj stages to perfection. It is the reenactment of the farce that takes his father away from him, the stage play in Hamlet. Here, he brings on the theatrics of a performing troupe and steals glances at Khurram and Ghazala, establishing an eerie and scary relationship, confirming the act. The moments of this nature are aplenty and if you find people gushing about other scenes, don’t be surprised. Haider is such a film, which makes you hold your breath, gasp and think twice before releasing it. It is nothing less than what is expected of Bhardwaj. He doesn’t want you to see the Dal lake or the winter snow and get lost in its beauty. He shows you the harrowing places, the streets that are always patrolled, the houses that are decapitated and the people who have hopeless eyes. Pankaj Kumar brings a sad beauty to how this is captured, reminding of Kawabata’s “Snow Country” when the white snow further established the melancholy of this tragedy.

haider-movieI am a bit reserved in calling the showcasing of the Oedipus Complex a triumph. The dialogues where Ghazala tells about the things Haider used to say establish the Oedipus Complex, much like in Hamlet but  I found myself thinking that there was also a hint of the Jocasta complex the way Tabu and Shahid were acting. Either way, the strange, implicit incestuous attachment of the two is entirely convincing. It’s a return of the actor in Tabu. Her love for Haider, dissatisfaction with her husband and the immorality of her romance with her brother-in-law is all so convincingly brought out by her. There’s a point in the film where she tells that whatever happens in life, she will always be the loser and she towers above everything else here.

Shahid Kapoor staring with eyes that hold the loss of father and a mother, the inability to understand the reasons behind them or convince him of the treachery is phenomenal. When he stands in the crowd holding a placard that reads “My father, where is he?”, you realise the gravity  of the situation. Being a poet, Haider’s confusion and conundrums take different forms that his girlfriend Arshia(Shraddha Kapoor) is unable to comprehend. In black and white, when specks of colour grow one either embraces or doubts sanity at seeing colour. Her life revolves around him and her father, Parvez(Lalit Parimoo). She is like most people, chained by the people she holds dear with little else otherwise to keep her alive.

shraddha hot kiss in HaiderDespite the prevalent bleakness, a Vishal Bhardwaj film cannot be without his brand of humor. Here, he has two men Salman & Salman, fans of Bhai, dressing like him, trying to talk like him, one even managing to mimic him quite well. They watch his movies, walk like him, speak like him and enact the scenes and dance routines of Bhai from his early movies, before the shirt baring muscled hunk era started to occupy the screen. Informers and video cassette traders when they aren’t imitating Bhai, they bring the lighter moments of the film but  there’s no inconsistency in tone or a departure from the strife at hand. If other filmmakers could realise the potential of what Bhardwaj has offered with this, we could definitely have sleeker films in the future.

There’s no mistaking that Haider is a very powerful film that hardly makes any mistakes but even then, it misses by a stretch. The climax though is unsavory. The talking up of freedom as a possibility only when the thirst for revenge is dropped is a valid enough idea but it could have been executed better. Here, the guns start blazing and the conflict ends like an afterthought. The whole point of “to be or not to be” on a personal level for Haider is somehow no longer valid. Like a ghost, he exists and will continue. In an otherwise perfect film, this is disturbing. If I had to paraphrase something from the film, I’d say that the climax is “chutzpah”, a word which gets new meaning in this film, another example of Bhardwaj’s sense of humor, something he took from the Osho Talks. Especially after following the excellently staged “So Jao”, this is a lovely state of the tiredness of everything around him, the perfectness of the need to become a ghost.

“Haider” is understandably a great film. It is a beautiful adaptation of the bard’s epic and Bhardwaj made me fall in love with it, making me experience what it is “to be and not to be”. He has directed a film which is both shocking and moving but more than anything else, it is something that will make you want to walk with it on a winter night, supporting its tragic bearings. This might just be his greatest work in an extremely compelling filmography.



  1. Okay I will take the discussion of the film from the climax and then try to make sense of my viewpoints…

    I absolutely loved the ending, the film made much better sense to me. As I read somewhere today there is something so beautiful about seeing blood on the ice, sadistic of course…

    I was grappling with the thoughts that did Kay Kay really want to kill Haider’s father… OK so he doesn’t have scenes to show that he was quite an evil… I felt he was perfectly human and it showed in his sprint towards Tabu in the end and not the other way round… Maybe that’s why VB didn’t show him in a very poor light and there were no confrontational scenes to prove Haider was right…

    I was never attached to the grieve and pain that Haider had to take the revenge…Even he himself wasn’t; as everything was not so black or white… Was Haider more angry that he loved his mother more than anybody and a revenge on behalf of his father is a mask; can be a point to ponder about…

    So that makes Kay Kay an important part as either it was shortchanged on the editing table or it was not given the attention it deserved…As the end does not stay true to the source of Shakespeare…

    It is a dark and beautiful film but imperfect like the people around, and we do love some of them… Not Vishal’s best…


    1. *Spoliers*

      I am totally, totally grappling with the thought that Khurram’s story could, possibly, be true. Haider was, in fact, feeling a sense of betrayal from his mother. In the penultimate scene, he outrages more when he asks what was Ghazala’s emotional response towards Khurram. I am not sure if Kay Kay’s part was short changed. One thing that still holds good is that he was an army informant, after all. What really mystifies me is, if Roohdaar was using Haider as a pawn or not. I think he was.

      Not Vishal’s best, certainly…may be second best. 😛


      1. Khurram(Kay Kay) was an army informant, i agree on that… But maybe he loved Ghazala more than both the other 2 males… So it makes it fair in love… But it was not depicted in the true sense unless the end suggests…

        So basically Khurram’s characterisation failed in the entire journey and so did Ghazala’s… Because more than meeting the eye it was never clear why Ghazala got infatuated and hooked on to Khurram also…Khurram is definitely a half baked character…

        I am taking out the entire Kashmir politics out of it because its a setting… Films are about characters and the way they are set…Unless it was a film to convey about a certain issue…The backdrop can flounder, rarely the characters can…

        And yes in my opiniion it is below Maqbool & Omkara too… There is beauty but… The if’s and but’s make it a debatable film not his best or second best…


  2. @Ajay: I felt it was pretty well depicted Khurram was long in love with Ghazala, even in the Kulbhushan Kharbinda flashback it was depicted, and almost everywhere.

    As far as Ghazala’s characterization is concerned, if you ask me…I felt the entire movie was based on her and most of the melancholy was coming from her…She clearly wanted to live in a safe place with a caring husband who’d atleast be with her when she needed him most and she clearly wasn’t getting it from her husband, and was waiting for her husband’s corpse, so that she can move on. She can move on right then, when she tells Haider about it, but is skeptical if her husband is still alive and can return…which Haider then uses as a bait to stop her from moving on (his violent reaction may be coming from his oedipal complex rather than his father’s loss). Well… as far as I see, it was pretty clear. I guess.


    1. @Salil: In the Kulbushan Kharbanda flashback it was depicted as more of lust rather than love, which was clearly visible in Tabu’s expression too….

      And how did Haider’s father come to know that Kay Kay had an eye for Tabu, or for that matter even Tabu liked him…Because he is certainly not the ghost here…

      I still agree to a certain extent on Ghazala’s characterisation…


      1. Well… If Ghazala does inform Kay Kay about having a terrorist inside their house, then there has to be some connection. And Ghazala *could* respond to lust, positively, in due course, considering her evident dissatisfaction with her husband.


      2. If..But..Could are words that we are interpreting…But it doesn’t come seamlessly while we are watching it…It is putting a doubt in our mind for a debate…


      3. And as I said… Roohdaar may have added that element in the story. Let’s suppose Roohdaar is a terrorist, and is looking for rats in Kashmir. He comes to know about Khurram and starts sniffing around him. He comes to know that their boss’ whereabouts were leaked to Khurram by Hilaal’s wife. Now, he knows that Khurram being a politician is absolutely out of reach and they need a pawn on the inside to get him out of the picture, and Ghazala is practically harmless, so they start using Haider as a pawn and thus Roohdaar enters, supposing he met Hilaal in the camp and modifying his story as a bait. Both being drowned together after getting shot is again something that may not have happened, Roohdaar might have escaped separately. Now, my conviction adds up when he sends Ghazala to get rid of Khurram.


      4. What you felt about Roohdaar’s character is exactly what I felt about him, he used Haider as a bait… But then how could he assume that Ghazala would have got rid of Khurram, in fact she doesn’t…Khurram runs towards her and is involved in the mishap too…


      5. There are some convenienences here and there, and I have mentioned that in my review as well…But I am quite fine with that. Too much of artistry made it up for me.


      6. Aw c’mon Ajay, :D, if not Haider, Ghazala was ofcourse the best bet to eliminate Khurram. And the fact he ran towards her, well, all the more reason to use Ghazala. And remember, Ghazala called Roohdaar exactly at the time they came to know their people at the graveyard are ambushed.


      7. Now why’d she eliminate Khurram? That depends on what she told Roohdaar that let Roohdaar hand over the suicide bombing vest to her.


      8. It’s your conviction which is adding up to that…Roohdar must not have agreed to give that vest to blow up Haider as he never was a threat… So it was definitely Khurram and his aides… Ghazala felt she is the reason behind all the mess for the three men in her life… So lets herself free…


      9. Exactly my thoughts…She must have asked for that vest for herself, and Khurram. Roohdaar saw an opportunity in that.


  3. It is a better film than most Bollywood potboiler, but just about an average film. The sound design is top notch. As one of my friend mentioned, Vishal hides his flaws with help of good actors and music in all his films, which is the case with this movie.Overall an average film, the climax was inspired by Dil Se i felt, it was much better film in the same genre. Even Harud captured the anguish of the Kashmiris much better.


  4. The most interesting part of the movie (and the play for that matter) was not Haider’s angst but the relationship b/w Ghazala and Khurram. I wish the director had focussed a little more on that relationship. Khurram did rat on his brother but he felt guilty about it and when in the end, Ghazala asks him that if he had ever loved her, he should give her a chance to allow Haider to surrender, his silence and expression speaks volume.

    And yes, I agree with the discussion above. Roohdaar definitely wants Ghazala to kill Khurram whom they all must have hated for being an informant and then taking part in the elections.


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