Drama/159 minutes/Now showing
Adapted from Hamlet, one of the most staged plays in the Shakespearean canon, Haider is set in India's troubled Kashmir. Instead of a brooding prince, there is Haider (Shahid Kapoor), a young student who returns to Kashmir after receiving news of his father's sudden disappearance. While coming to grips with this news, he uncovers the relationship of his mother, Ghazala (Tabu), with his uncle (Kay Kay Menon). A tale of love, lies, deceit and revenge slowly unfolds.
Using Hamlet as his inspiration, director Vishal Bharadwaj's new film finally does full justice to India's underrated acting dynamos - Kapoor and Tabu - without trivialising the larger issue of Kashmir which forms the backdrop.
Set in 1990s Kashmir, the film trains an unrelenting lens on the unrest in the state, the brutality of the police and the armed forces, and the disappearances and deaths of people who are tortured and, sometimes, framed for crimes they are not guilty of.
Haider's father is one of those statistics - a good doctor who meets his watery grave at the hands of the authorities. His crime: treating a terrorist.
It is such disappearances and deaths that rip families apart. As they do Haider's.
This film, which is a slow boil in the first half with its focus on the broader Kashmir issue, picks up steam in the second half when the mysterious Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) arrives and reaches Haider through the efforts of the latter's feisty journalist girlfriend, played brilliantly by the young actress Shraddha Kapoor.
Soon, the tale twists at a gripping speed. Haider learns his father is dead and that his uncle had a role to play.
Intense drama follows between mother and son, as both struggle with not just the story of his father's death, but also that of his mother's brewing romance with his conniving uncle.
Shahid Kapoor gives his Hamlet/Haider character a brilliant, brooding and tortured twist.
To play a complex, layered character who has to act as if he is on the brink of madness is widely regarded as a milestone in an actor's career and often a theatrical rite of passage.
Kapoor as Haider brings out all the elements of a poetic scholar who is too confused to become a brutal warrior to avenge his father's death.
It is his mother, essaying the much shrewder Gertrude, who has the upper hand. With her intense yet sad look staying pretty much the same throughout the film, she keeps the audience guessing: Who does she really love? Is she as troubled as she looks?
Tabu pulls off her role with such quiet aplomb that one is left wondering why audiences do not see more of her in Bollywood. She pushes her character's portrayal right to the edge.
The moment of truth, as in the play, has nothing to do with temperance and Tabu sees it through as only her Ghazala can.
Revenge is always bloody, but what I like best is the director's even-handed treatment of complex relationships and an intense political issue.
It helps that the film is shot beautifully. The movie keeps the song and dance numbers to a bare minimum, making it stand apart from formulaic Bollywood.
This is a must-watch.
Get MyPaper for more stories.