Haider: Uncertain, Complex, Asymmetric… Because the screenplay is Kashmir

Posted: October 3, 2014 by moifightclub in bollywood, cinema, film, film review, Movie Recco, movie reviews, Must Watch
Tags: , , , , , ,

A Vishal Bhardwaj film is an event for us. He is our tent-pole movie. With his latest one, Haider, he has left his contemporaries far, far behind. A bold and uncompromised take on a complicated subject with a master craftsman weaving magic on screen – dark, depressing, violent, poetic, and gloomy. How else do you like your VB-film? Who else can do it better than him? Over to Nadi Palshikar who just watched the film and jotted down her thoughts.

An MBBS doctor by training, Nadi has also done the screenplay writing course at FTII. She is currently doing Gender Studies at Pune University. Sutak is her first novel which has recently got published. This is her first post on mFC.


Innocence has betrayed him ; Haider’s hands are tied by the red scarf made by the innocent one.

He has been captured by the trickster, the two faced Janus – comic and now revealed to be cruel.

Two funny photographers with the same name are used to depict a two faced trickster.

The trickster working at the periphery of the state.

Periphery, the two photographers (the two Salmans) have not got ‘permanent’ posts yet, but serve.

They have once bestowed a favor – they came and took Haider away on a motorcycle, they took him away to safety.

Now, they are driving him in a vehicle owned by his enemy, they are taking him away to death.

He overpowers them, but after a scuffle, they escape.

Haider now picks up a stone and aims it at the (two) trickster(s). We see in the background that the landscape is full of stones. Hurled by those who had no other defence against the powerful state.

A stone for a bullet. And yet, the world took notice.

For the first time, India’s lack of capabilities to handle law and order situations in an appropriate manner came to light. Surely, firing is an out-of-proportion response for stone throwing, asked citizens.

For 20 years, the biggest threat to security forces was militancy, now it is these stones youngsters are hurling at the speed of 40 kms per hour said the Chief Minister. The age old form of dissent (probably inspired by the Palestinian Intifada) had worked.

To the world was presented a clear picture, literally a picture of who was the strong Goliath in this confrontation.

But back to Haider, and the landscape heaped with stones.

Then as if the stones have joined to become formidable, a big rock. And Haider uses this rock to destroy the cruel shape shifting monster.

We leave the scene with an image of stones, stones…

Beautiful, but strange..like the landscape of Kashmir, this tribute to the young men who risked the bullet to hurl a stone..

Just writing down my response to one scene in the film. The film is full of such scenes, making meaning – so many meanings. What an excellent screenplay by Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night) and Vishal Bhardwaj.

What it achieves – An unlikely adaptation of  Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Unlikely and effective. The setting so difficult, yet so believable.

Every little thing, every spoken word has a purpose, a meaning. Even simple lines of dialogue which may seem just ‘funny’ lines reveal insight. e.g- Haider is at a very low point. He is mentally breaking down. And his girlfriend asks him “kya haal banake rakha hain?” To which his quick and laughing retort is ask me “kuchch lete kyun nahin?” Those of you who were born then, do you remember the 80s Coldarin advertisement? This is 1995, and these two young people were are childhood friends.

They shared this dialogue, laughed about it, when they were children.

Also, those were happier times, easier times.

Now at a very difficult point in their life he calls that line from the past.

Also, for us, as audience – the writers are after all Vishal Bharadwaj who will not have anything purposeless, meaningless in his film, and Basharat Peer who has written Curfewed Night about his personal experiences as a child inKashmir.

He knows that History is not just what you find in textbooks. History is personal accounts. History can be what we experienced in popular culture at a particular time.

As audience we remember that ad – we see Haider remembering that ad.

We shared that experience.

This Kashmiri young man, and us.

The same ad is aired over a geographical location.

We shared it.

We are a part of the same history..

A political stand taken by the film- 

I will state it simply – Haider’s monologue about AFSPA is the politically bravest piece of writing that I have seen in film in a long time.

The ending – Even as he ‘hears’ his father’s voice calling for revenge, he also ‘hears’ another voice – his Grandfather’s saying that revenge only leads to more revenge. How can revenge make us free?

How can it give us Azaadi?

Speaking of the AFSPA, remember, when the present government had ruled out changes in the AFSPA?

There was a statement by the army chief which had hurt me then.

He called it an “enabling act” because he said “AFSPA gives Army additional powers to operate in an environment which is marked by very high degree of uncertainty and complexity and an asymmetric environment where you cannot differentiate between a friend and a foe as the terrorist merges with the backdrop and hides amongst the locals.”

A statement that I did not like and now a screenplay that has moved me. See how Kashmir was described?

“environment which is marked by very high degree of uncertainty and complexity and an asymmetric environment where you cannot differentiate between a friend and a foe”

The structure of the screenplay is Exactly that.




The screenplay Is Kashmir.

– Nadi Palshikar

  1. Wish it were a longer article 🙂

  2. DPac says:

    Nicely written

  3. SP says:

    wasn’t it his mother and not grandfather who said revenge only leads to more revenge?

  4. filmynerd says:

    How I wish the sexual innuendos amongst the leads were more elaborate, but I guess thats the most that could be expressed considering barriers. Certain issues I had, like when Arshia goes to pick Haider we see the road has all the latest cars running, production value? And khul kabhi was random (nevertheless I am always all ears for Saar).

  5. Wow! Really, would love to read a much more detailed post.

    Must say that every line in the monologue about AFSPA made me literally go wow. I can watch the movie all over again just for that one scene. Even the way it is shot and edited is just so perfect!

  6. Anonymous says:

    One other dialogue that left a mark on me was the conversation between mother and son when he returns to see her.. Dad was always a good guy even when he was busy with his medical practice.. “Mom remains the empty flute with holes in it in the sons hand..” That is how she sees her life. And son says, you always see from behind the curtains of your own eyelids.. “Bhoole Bhatke kabhi doosron ki palkhonke peeche se dekhiye..” something like that.. I agree that each and every dialogue has great weight in it..

  7. psharmarao says:

    Wish this insightful review was longer. Hamlet or Haider the complexities remain and it seems the right time for intelligent cinema in India.

  8. nadi says:

    Thank you DPac.
    Karthik, it is short and not nicely structured too.
    A kind of an immediate response, a reaction.
    I liked the film and ran to tell everyone 🙂
    SP, you are right. It is mother’s voice he hears. But she is quoting Grandfather (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda). His words,and therefore my mistake… his voice. A slip

  9. nadi says:

    Filmynerd, you are right. The dialogue has to keep with the characters’ sociocultural position. Ah , but the undertones were there.. very nice I thought
    Sharath, that monologue about AFSPA is really significant. Yes, i too will watch it again for that.
    Well.. for the dance too , I confess

  10. nadi says:

    Anonymous, I too loved the dialogue. I like that they did not shy away from using a little theatrical dialogue. I enjoy that in our films.
    PSharmaRao, it is a good film. Yes, intelligent. Next time, a proper review.

  11. @Rohwit says:

    And those subtle nuances.. Like when Haider (who has gone newly bald), starts wearing a ‘topi’ when KK starts telling him his version of what has happened to his dad. May be I am reading a little too much in ‘everything Haider’ but then thats what cinema should make you do.

    Thank you Nadi for making us reflect one more time of the cinematic riot that Haider was. Agreeing with Kartik, I wish you wrote a longer post here

    Jazak allah!

  12. indra says:

    If your son will be in the army and as per Govt rules in Srinagar, he is not allowed to carry his arms and die in the process (This actually happens) as AFSPA is not applicable in certain areas.
    Would you say the same thing and turn your fingers on Army Chief…or turn on Governmentfor his death…OR YOU WILL FORGET AND LET GO AS REVENGE IS MMEANINGLESS..

    • nadi says:

      Indra, is your son in the army? You must be a proud father.
      Indra, all of us respect the army for the good work it does. My Father’s brother was an army officer, his son- my cousin brother in an officer of the Indian Navy.
      We respect the armed forces.
      All the more reason for criticising its faults..

  13. […] Haider: Uncertain, Complex, Asymmetric… Because the screenplay is Kashmir […]

  14. drhadi says:

    Lovely review Nadi , so many great , goosebumps moments in the film .. I loved the dialogue when K K Menon says “ab ye paagal bhediya ban gaya hai”…about haider’s changed and volatile behaviour , to which tabu responds …Kam se kam assteen kaa saanp tto nahi bana” … Superb film .. Do write a detailed review with finer subtexts ,metaphors & hidden meanings

  15. Durga Dalai says:

    1. Film is not photographed theater.
    2.There lies no talent in creating unconventional mise en scènes wherein quirky characters act the way they are least supposed to do.
    3.All actors revive and replay caricatures of their past persona, everything they are good at.
    4. Instead of giving the audience inspired works of art, you are merely training the artist to ensure his own income.
    5. The charred house must have been located at a place of strategic importance whereby the director frequently drops to implant props to move the narrative forward.
    6. Non-generic trivial specificities with the dialect and the urban Kashmiri image.
    7.Hotchpotch of all things Shakespeare.
    8. Implausibility of certain scenes, characters appearing out of nowhere to aid the flow of narrative, interspersed with documentary footage.
    9. Ancient bait of going into intermission with a popular face.
    10. Apart from sporadic flashes of lyrical brilliance in the dialogues, mostly on-the-face dialogues prompting a response, again aiding the narrative. Also, frequent flashbacks pinning in motivation.
    11. Apparent indices of the director being smitten with the works of one of his contemporary peers.

  16. Durga Dalai says:

    With point no. 11 I had my reservations that it was just me, only to find B. Rangan pointing to the same in his blog.

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