Halfway through the film, there is a scene where the camera briefly focuses on a signboard planted on the balcony of a detention camp in Kashmir. The sign reads,
“Grab them by the balls, the heart and mind will soon follow.”
That one sentence alone is enough to describe the experience that is Haider.
Vishal Bharadwaj breathes life into the corpse of the Bard yet again as he crawls back out of his grave to revisit a tale that has been retold over and over again for centuries. Bharadwaj, strips down the source material to it’s bare bones and weaves a story around it to devastating effect.
Set in 1995 amidst the insurgency-hit Kashmir conflicts of 1995, which was the peak of militancy in the valley, the film follows the story of Haider(Shahid Kapur),a young conflicted, misguided boy who returns home on hearing the disappearance of his father. Upon his arrival, Haider realizes that things have changed, significantly. Haider’s mother Ghazala(played to perfection by Tabu) has taken a liking to his uncle, Khurram(Kay Kay Menon) which in turn drives a wedge in the relationship he shares with her. Haider vows to track down his father and with a little help from Roohdaar(Irrfan Khan) finds his lifeless corpse. Haider is told by Roohdar that his father’s last wishes were to ask Haider to avenge him. What follows next is for you to go see.
Shot in beautiful Kashmir, Haider is a lesson in storytelling for the modern cinema-goer. By bringing together the Bard and India’s crown jewel, Bharadwaj spins a story so macabre and so beautiful, that it demands your attention instantly. Accompanied by a soundtrack that can be best described as a jarring mix of Moby’s Extreme Ways and Salman Khan’s greatest musical hits, Haider holds on and never lets go for the two odd hours of it’s running time, It does get off to a slow start, biding it’s time whilst establishing the connection between the audience and the characters as well as the scenario they find themselves in. It is an absolute joy to watch, both visually and intellectually.
As far as performances go, this one is teeming to the brim with them. Tabu is the star of the show in a career defining performance. She is scarily brilliant, reminding us that she’s still around and is still capable of pulling out performances such as these. Surprisingly, it’s Shahid Kapur who comes in a close second. He nails Haider’s descent into insanity perfectly, and has the audience laughing, crying and cringing along the way. Kapur shows glimpses of brilliance that would no doubt make his father proud. Kay Kay Menon is wonderful as well and so is Irrfan Khan, who manages to shine inspite of his role being that of a bit-part one. A special nod must go to the two Salmans’ who absolutely nail the various mannerisms one would associate with Bhai. From his dialogue delivery to his terrible dance moves, the two pay tribute to Bhai in spectacular fashion and are easily one of the film’s highlights. Even Shraddha Kapoor, who plays Haider’s love interest, Arshia, holds her own in a cast as talented as this and delivers a stellar performance.
Haider is a wonderful experience and will surely stay with you long after the lights have come on. It is captivating, engaging and easily my favorite Bollywood film of the year, so far. If you’re planning on catching a film this weekend, punch a ticket for this one. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.