Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haider, a film worth watching

When we talk about a land, we first talk about its culture and people, but surprisingly these two attributes drop off our list when the land is a disturbed one.  Politics takes the center stage and completely subsumes the land’s narrative, such that even if you want to tell personal stories, you have to place them within a political framework.

As time goes the political narrative becomes complex with various strands braiding themselves into a thick and intricate narrative.   Vishal Bhardwaj has had to deal with a similar situation for  Haider, his latest movie,  where he has had to tell a personal story, that of Haider, placing it within the complex political narrative of Kashmir. And he has successfully done so.

Haider is a beautiful film (or told beautifully) which manages to tell a personal story set in a political framework. Where the movie disappoints a bit is it at times bends over backwards to show the separatist movement in a positive light. You will see likable terrorists singing while grave-digging and shooting. 

No one should have any problem with this political lop-sidedness. It could well be the director's line of belief. But if he had explained the role of all the parties involved in Kashmir cauldron to the extent the plot warranted without taking political sides, Vishal Bhardwaj would have done a better job as a story teller. Instead, he chose the easier option. However, the redeeming point is that despite this political posturing, he has managed to tell the main story well. 

Haider is pursuing a PhD on revolutionary poets in India at Aligarh university, where he has been sent by his conniving paternal uncle (Haider’s father’s own brother) and mother so that Haider is not witness to their growing intimacy following Haider’s father’s disappearance engineered by his uncle who is an Indian army informer. Haider visits Kashmir in search of his father and gradually discovers how his uncle had laid out a plan to bring the downfall of his father and eventually get him arrested and killed. All to win over Haider’s mother.

The story unfolds in the first half amidst political problem, so that by the second half the political context is established with the viewer and the main story races up without the anchoring of politics around it. You can’t praise a film without the performances that make it possible. Haider’s transformation from an average guy to a terrorist has been enacted well by Shahid Kapoor… cold anger and determination come through very convincingly.

Transformation, in fact, is not unique to Shahid Kapoor’s character. Haider’s uncle played by KK Menon also undergoes a slow transformation, showing signs of repentance gnawing him from within even as he maintains his conniving exterior, trying to prevent things from sliding out of control as Haider is out to avenge his father’s death.

Although the song, dance, romance and loud comedy routine makes you feel it’s just another commercial movie, Haider has many redeeming qualities that make it worth a watch.
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