Sunday, October 5, 2014

Haider Review

Haider, the film, suffers from dual personality. When it is not a political film, it is a personal film, and sometimes both at the same time. And treatment to both these asymmetric contexts is very symmetric. Each of them leads way to the other. When Dr. Hilaal Meer brought a man to his home to operate on his appendix, he was just a patient for him. But, for the state of Kashmir, he was a militant. Naturally, the army had to take Dr. Meer away with him for supporting a militant to where no one knows. This calls young Haider, his son, back to his home from Aligarh where he had been studying about "Revolutionary Poets of British India". (His returning scene is exactly how Harud begins- another film on Kashmir conflict by Aamir Bashir who plays Liyaqat in this film). He had to return for his father had taught him verse of one such poet, Faiz, during his childhood: "Chalein bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobar chalein". (This tender relationship also explains why Bhardwaj dedicated this film to his father Ram Bhardwaj who was also a poet.) His search for his father becomes as political as personal.

As it turns that his uncle, who is now having a love affair with his mother, had a role in his father's disappearance, Haider gets tormented within. This is where personal and political intertwines. A self-contemplating "Main rahoon ya main rahoon nahin" also finds its form in public mutiny as "Hum hain ki hum nahin". When his inner madness starts taking over him, or as he pretends to, he starts speaking politically most profound things in public as if he is fighting against the evils of his motherland and not of his mother. It was only during the explosive climax (which, by the way, I found a bit on the lines of routine Hindi drama film as all the characters start making appearance mysteriously) when the symbolism of the mother's character as motherland came alive more dramatically on screen. Faiz, who has been the guiding spirit throughout, returns after the tragic climax as his lines are recited in Rekha Bhardwaj's voice throughout the end credits: "Unn maa-on ke naam/unn haseena-on ke naam".

Bhardwaj's use of songs and visuals to tell a story is most distinctive and remarkable. He knows how to bring horror and tension on screen with minimal show of substance- like, flowing blood through wall in Maqbool, a snake dropped in haldi during wedding in Omkara and as in this one when Arshia (though Shraddha Kapoor is unconvincingly intense in this scene) toys with a gun in hand as she has tangled herself with wools of a red shawl (which was symbolic of love before and now of blood); or how an amputated hand holding a gun is more horrific than a dead man holding it after an explosion; or when a kid lying in a truck full of dead bodies, bathed in blood, opens his eyes and realizes he is not dead- and this is played with "Lahoo lahoo lahoo waqt ka khoon hua re" from the Jhelum song in the background. This song comes as an organic development of the story as in any other Vishal Bhardwaj film. He creates such visuals for the song that when looked separately they would seem redundant. Like, as a part of the song, when Haider sees into the eyes of a hopeful woman outside a police station, she shows picture of his disappeared son and it plays "dooba suraj kin aankhon mein", and in response, Haider shows photo of his disappeared father and the song goes "suraj dooba kin aankhon mein" in perfect sync to the pace of the scene. Also, a wandering Haider is echoed with "Jhelum dhoonde kinara". Jhelum river is yet another masterstroke of symbolism in this film. In the Bismil song, Haider enacts the true story of how his father has been killed and thrown into the river for which he lip syncs "Jhelum laal laal hua". And, the one who told him this story was his father's personified spirit that departed from him in the same river. That "spirit" when appears on scene (what an entry, Irrfan!) introduces himself as "Main rooh hoon, doctor ka rooh"- an interestingly named Roohdar. And when the song or sequence is a telling horror, Bhardwaj brings black humor out of it- as in the gravediggers' song with the ingenious use of shoveling sound.

Bhardwaj expects his audience to be informed. If they are not, either they are left missed half of the film or they are left curious to go home and do their homework which most of the audience don't and end up disliking the film. That's one reason why dark comedy of Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola didn't work with the masses. Even his source(s) of inspiration, mostly literary, are so immense and wide. He made us go through Ismat Chugtai's Lihaaf to find the subtle hint of queer in Begum Para and her confidante's character (Madhuri and Huma Qureshi) in Dedh Ishqiya. This one has jokes referenced from Osho Talks and a short story "New Disease" by Akhtar Moinuddin. When was the last time a director gave credits for even jokes used in his film?

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