Sometimes it is so difficult to collect all the thoughts to write a review for a movie. What do I do then? I ask myself. Us Bhakts of Bhardwaj get swept away, most of the times, in blind faith. But the truth is, there is no way you can ignore the reality, as I learnt while I was talking to Sethu. The truth, in all of its probability is, that this Vishal Bhardwaj’s masterpiece…is not aberration free. There are things in the plot that call for an unwelcome “what a coincidence.” There are things that call for an unwelcome “really?” moment. I mean how do you respond to a thing that’d happen – even in the context of the movie—but won’t because it’s a movie, based on a play — so there are events pending to happen? How do you respond to characters that exist because…well, it’s convenient for the storyteller? And no, I am not talking about Irrfan Khan’s Roohdaar (without trying to spoil anything.) There are coincidences, and character decisions — and yes they can happen, but! — But that jarred. Because it felt like some kind of an easy make-shift solution to drive the movie forward. That makes things look superficial. It takes away the gravity from a scenario otherwise really intense. It hinders seamless involvement.
But then, I did say that Haider is, after all, a masterpiece. That’s why I’d start writing this piece with brushing the dirt off my feet at the doorstep. Because for all the convenience that seemed, for all the strange “did it really happen?” moments…I gave in. I gave in to the extreme level of artistry on display. When you watch a Vishal Bhardwaj film, you cannot avoid the poetry in characters. In “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” there are many a monologue Warren Beatty’s McCabe says to himself. In one of them, he says, “there’s poetry in me.” There’s poetry almost everywhere in Haider. Shahid Kapoor’s Haider himself is a poetry student. Haider’s father Dr. Meer (played beautifully by Narendra Jha) sings Faiz Ahmed Faiz ghazals to him. Irrfan Khan’s Roohdaar almost always talks as if reciting lines of a poem. Words Chutzpah and AFSPA rhyme. No director tells India on its face that Indians can be cruel to Indians, Kashmiris can be cruel to Kashmiris. In short, the bottomline is, people are cruel to people.
Then comes the drama. Now take the Kashmir problem, remove imperialism from Shakespeare’s tragedy and superimpose it on an everyman situation in a highly conflicted Kashmir. Now…add choices between familial sentimentality, loyalty, deep love, morality, animal instinct, power struggle (which obviously comes from Shakespeare), choosing India over Kashmir, or personal benefit and satisfaction over the greater good to the situation. You get an extremely complex situation in which every word spoken intends to sear the others. And, from an objective viewpoint, Bhardwaj doesn’t favour anybody. He simply criticizes the wrong. He criticizes a politically created situation without ever making too much of it. How does he do that? By focusing on the central storyline and setting it in 1995 Kashmir, when speaking the truth and doing the right thing gets you in trouble (that happens all the time, and everywhere, doesn’t it?). Add to that a woman’s dreams, hopes, her choices, her will, desires and wishes forming the moral backbone of the movie, and then ask yourself what was wrong about Ghazala and her motivations; why she did what she did. That’s what Bhardwaj aims for, and, in the end, achieves. Dramatic complexity with visual grace.
If there’s one person with chutzpah – in Bollywood — then it is Bhardwaj. Otherwise, no director dares that much. Most of them either go for simplistic stories like Yahaan, or they go with movies Kabhi Kabhie or Kashmir Ki Kali. Some film-makers go with an added intent like Vidhu Vinod Chopra took us there in Mission Kashmir, but he didn’t sink into the politics of Kashmir. He, instead — stayed on the surface, and — did an action-thriller movie (albeit a good one). Though it takes another mile to enter the murky territory. Before this, Mani Ratnam tried that with overwhelming results. We are talking about Mani Ratnam, in that case. I am not saying that Kabhie Kabhie or Kashmir ki Kali are bad movies; I am a fan of Yahaan myself, but then, you have to cross the bridge to reach the darker realms. And make a gloriously beautiful dark movie, that it is.
Despite being a highly politically charged movie (his second, after Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola), Bhardwaj is a film maker in love with passionate people; trying to capture their passion and intent. When I watched its trailer for the first time, I wondered in which category it falls. Does it fall into a category like 7 Khoon Maaf or Makdee? Is it a satire (which it sounded in the trailers) like Matru ki Bijlee Ka Mandola? Or does it follow suit like previous Bard adaptions Maqbool and Omkara? I was surprised to see that it is more on the lines of The Blue Umbrella. An event happens in a place where its impact would be visible only after the mishap has happened, only to those directly involved. Neighbours may not know what’s going on next door, but share uncanny warmth and sympathy for each other. Houses are small and quiet, and (like most of his movies) insides are dark. Like Pankaj Kapur’s Khatri in The Blue Umbrella, he says “re Indradhanush ko dekh ke koi faeda hota hai kya?” (“What’s the point of looking at a rainbow?”), Irrfan says “Jhelum bhi main, Chinar bhi, Shia bhi main, Sunni bhi main, aur pandit bhi” (I am Jhelum, I am Chinar, I am Shia, I am Sunni, I am the Pandit.) Such severe is the poetry exuded to the space available to them, that you can’t really help but get engrossed and move. Most part of the movie happens in places isolated. You shout there, there’s no one to listen. Yet, you shout the truth, there’s someone ready to cap you. Ones who can understand, sympathize, and digest your bitterness are (like always) the loved (or, the Love-ed). But such is this bitterness; it stays, forever. There aint no syrup made of compassion that lets you swallow it. Not in the world of power hungry. Someone — who doesn’t side by the Indian, Pakistani, or Kashmiri – who sides by the life of his patient (or heck, his own for that matter) is taken away and charged for traitorhood. Thankfully, I slept before completing this review. The movie still haunts me (like a forlorn melody) so that I can tell you I am in awe of this movie. Many people online are asking if this is VB’s best movie…maybe. For me, his best movie is still The Blue Umbrella. But a movie in that territory (if only, with guns and relentless tragedy) can’t be far behind. For me, I think, this is his second best movie after The Blue Umbrella. After all, can Shahid Kapoor overtake Pankaj Kapur? Well…not quite plausible. Not yet.
Like most of the movies Bharadwaj’s made, there are very few things to live for (and, that makes it easy, to die for) for the people inhabiting his world. Can it be truer for anyone other than for people of Kashmir in Haider? Right from the first frame of the movie, till the last…it’s the same god damn desperation that drives every Vishal Bhardwaj movie he’s been associated with, let alone directed. And this time, he almost takes the Kalashnikov and starts firing himself. Such is the desperation of the characters, they choose something they’d avoid for long, long time… something like a weapon, maybe.
Now, as I write this review and put things in retrospect, in the first paragraph I talked about a moment that ought to happen, but didn’t. In fact, now I understand, that you cannot give a gun in the hands of a penman, and expect him to shoot right away. Even in the moments of desperation, the penman kills not with the gun, but with stones…Like a protest, not a murder (and that too after he has long, long protested with placards and posters). It takes triggering of animal instinct for the penman to use the gun. Yes, I now get it…though still there remain a couple of “what a coincidence” moments, my doubts on Bhardwaj’s Haider fade all the more. As I said, Haider is Vishal Bhardwaj’s masterpiece. I am left with little choice but to say kami main dimaag ki gar sunu to hai, dil ki gar sunu to hai nahi. To thik hai, main dil ki sunta hun. Film mei kami to koi hai nahi, kami hummei ho to baat alag hai (Is there something missing in the movie, or not…is the question. If I listen to perceptibility, then there is, if I listen to sensitivity, there isn’t. So I go with sensitivity. There is nothing wrong with the movie. Is there something wrong with us…is the question.)
Terrorists are considered to be lurid talkers. Even more so in this film. In this film, they are lurid to the extent of being poetic. Such is the desperation of a terrorist to live that he just won’t — or can’t — die. But then, every person cruel to another is also a terrorist. How different are we?
And oh, there are people on Social Media (I admire) that play this game every time a Vishal Bhardwaj movie releases. I do that in my space as well.
VB movies in ascending order of preference:
(PS: I didn’t like Kaminey a lot, but that’s still better than most of the movies Hindi cinema offers us…any day.)