Hamlet in Kashmir

Arvind Gigoo
In Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider Hamlet’s ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ becomes ‘Everything is rotten in Kashmir’. The lecture during the ‘feigned madness’ of Haider at Lal Chowk in Srinagar reflects his passion, vitality, sensitivity, introspective intellectuality, comical intensity and ironic contrasts. The speech is packed with more-than-private meanings and is loaded with historical and political allusions.
Haider plunges into grief, misery and tragic disillusionment because of his father’s disappearance, and mother’s hasty second marriage with his uncle. In the beginning he moves about silent and despondent but, as the events unfold, his world is shattered and the intense duty of revenge forces him to play a role with a mission. He is certain of his victim’s guilt and his own scruple. He is complex and subtle, and his dialogues bristle with irony, paradox and cold shrewdness. There is a chain of moves and countermoves made by the informants, militants, police and army. The searches and the parades that the Kashmiri Muslims are subjected to, the torture inflicted upon the suspect in the interrogation centre, encounters and the unmarked graves present ugly truths and fluid situations. The societal fabric of Kashmir is based on mistrust and suspicion. The mentality of vindictiveness has invaded many. Conflict, violence and killings are rampant.  The army wants to re-establish the old order. While doing so there are deaths and destruction. Actions lead to chilling tragedies and more revenge. Some comic interludes provide relief followed by bullets, guns and bloodshed. There is innocence too.
The army men arrest a doctor because they come to know that he has operated upon a wounded Kashmiri militant in his house in Kashmir. His son Haider (played by Shahid Kapoor) is determined to trace his father whose whereabouts are unknown. His uncle Khurram Mir (played very well by KK Menon) is behind the stratagem to make Haider’s father disappear with a view to marry his widow. Mauji (played by Tabu) is splendidly mysterious and brings to mind Hamlet’s observation: ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’. Haider wants revenge. He is the inheritor of a blood bath. His hot-headed devotion to honour leads from tragedy to tragedy and from vengeance to vengeance. Shakespeare’s Hamlet rejects the opportunity to kill the King at prayer. Here Haider displays procrastination to kill his uncle while he prays, repents and confesses his guilt. This is the effect of Mauji’s ideas on revenge. This is a departure from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The graveyard scene and the skull in hand are the most tragic and horrible. Haider talks about life, death and the tragic ironies of life. ‘The times are out of joint’ in Kashmir. The song sung against the background of Martand temple (used as a set) in Kashmir is ‘the play within the play’. An army man asks if the three hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits can be categorized as ‘disappeared people’.
Haider is gripping and electrifying. The screenplay, adapted from Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy Hamlet and written by Vishal Bhardwaj and Basharat Peer, is innovative, breathtaking and marvelous. Shahid Kapoor’s role shows his versatility and mastery of acting skills. Tabu, Shrada Kapoor and Irfan Khan are very good. The sound effect and cinematography are remarkable, and enhance and intensify the atmosphere suited to each scene of the film.
I wish some Bollywood director would come out with a film depicting the condition of Kashmiri Pandit exiles because there are hundreds of thousands of stories about their most tragic predicament away from their homeland, Kashmir. Their tragedies also demand filmic treatment from reputed producers and writers sensitive to their plight.


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