Seen Haider yet? Naah? What are you doing? Go, book your tickets first. Coming back to the film, if Vishal Bhardwaj can get two Salmans, we aren’t far behind. We got two Haiders. One is his, other is ours. So here is our Haider on his Haider.
Our Haider Hussain Beig is a 23 year old filmmaker based out of Netherlands. When he’s not alienating close friends with painful film gyaan, he dabbles in Aerospace Engineering. You can check out his stuff here. This is first post here.
To read our previous post on the film, “Haider : Uncertain, Complex, Asymmetric…Because the screenplay is Kashmir”, click here.
Heavy handed exposition usually kills a film for me. It could be a tasteless voiceover or a redundant character painstakingly ear-fucking the audience with drab explanations of already convoluted plot-points. Which brings me to one of my favorite ‘did you catch that?’ Moments in the film. It occurs when Khurram is being led into an abandoned house and he notices ‘Yeh toh Kaul Saab ka ghar hai.’ Then a brief exchange ensues about the whereabouts of ‘Kaul Saab’, finally coming to the conclusion that he has ‘shifted’ to Bombay.
This was an in passing reference to the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland. It perfectly captures the nonchalance of the characters who, putting it crudely, have different issues to deal with now. And perhaps are still dealing with the brutal and horrific ousting of their Hindu neighbours as a mere migration to the big city. This is just one of the many examples of sheer brilliance in storytelling by someone who I would not have expected less of. Best of all, I didn’t feel like I was being explained a point of view or thrown facts at that I was supposed to ingest like a frustrated teenager in a History lesson. I knew most facts about the region and the socio-political situation already, and never once did I feel the need to internally sigh with a ‘pata hai bhai, gyan dena band karo‘. And trust me when I say I know a lot about Kashmir. Because unlike most of us, I have not been fed frustratingly conflicting facts from different sources of news, I have lived them in my own little way.
I was born in Delhi to a German mother and a Kashmiri father, who decided to name me Haider. It’s one of those unique ‘this-guy-is-definitely-a-Shia’ names. I guess like most things my father does, he wanted to be different. And I was happy with that. I personally don’t know any Haiders. Until late last year, when I heard Vishal Bhardwaj was making his third Shakespeare adaptation on Hamlet, called Haider. Same name, same spelling. Not Hyder, Heydar, or Haidar. HAIDER. F-U-C-K-ed-M-E.
Putting it simply, it’s unnerving to see your name in posters, on billboards, as a trending hashtags of some of my cinematic idols on the big screen. In the ticket line at the box office I turned around as a reflex to my name being called out by impatient ticket buyers. And let’s not get started with the jokes that only true friends and elementary school goers can come up with; ‘How does it feel to have Shahid Kapoor in you?’, or ‘Dude! You gave Hansal Mehta fulfilling sleepless nights!’.
What put me to a melancholic ease though, was the name being pronounced in a Kashmiri accent. It took me back to an angry grandmother yelling out ‘Huhder!’ at my mischief. It’s sad that it takes a great like VB to put in the careful attention to detail to make sure that stars make the proper effort into not caricaturizing the dialect. From Shahid Kapoor’s ‘Sirinagar’ to Shraddha Kapoor’s endearing ‘Luvved, Givved, Suckked, Fu..’. They were almost pitch perfect. And even if some may not agree, full points for the effort.
The dialogues, their delivery, and timing, were just a revelation. Blending in Shakespeare’s cunning words with the heavy backdrop of the ‘Kashmir Issue’. Nothing felt pedantic, heavy handed, apologetic, expositional, out of place, or forced. It was as it should have been. Nothing more, nothing less.
The supporting cast was mostly played by locals, and they were spot-fucking on. There was no need for windy character back stories. From Janus’ two faced Salman and Salman, to Khurram’s born-again militant henchman. They could all have separate films based on them and I would pay good money to watch those too. It’s heartening to see such a wide pool of talent scattered all across the country. WAKE THE FUCK UP, BOLLYWOOD!
Shraddha Kapoor’s work was a welcome surprise. I wouldn’t say her performance was perfect, but three films in, she’s already giving her contemporaries a hard time. Aloof, innocent and gullible, Arshia was what I would call a perfect representation of Kashmir in the early parts of the militancy. It resonated, or was rather amplified by Tabu’s Ghazala, as a more worn out, mature, but also much more grey representation of Kashmir in the time the film is set in, the glorious mid-nineties. It seems like Tabu is the only actor that can play a self destructive feminine character in a Shakespearean tragedy to such seasoned perfection. And to Shahid Kapoor, all I want to say is, Ghanta-Ghar in Lal Chowk will never be the same for anyone again. They better fucking throw all the big (even if bogus) awards at him.
Never have I seen a film capture the reality of the situation so beautifully. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is a result of what would happen of each character we’re given a brush to paint out exactly what they see. Each frame was a representation of these personal works of art. It was almost akin to the wounded beauty of the valley. You are one of my heros. I was more excited about seeing your name attached to the film than VB’s. After Ship of Theseus, and now this, I can’t wait to see much much more work from you!
Finally, to the master himself. Vishal Bhardwaj. I might need a series of blog posts to talk about your work. And I’m sure, as I have also read, there is enough information, analysis, discourse and dissection of your work already. I’d rather not add to the pile. I’ll stick to what stuck out most for me, the score. I had listened to the songs that had come out in the run up to the release quite a lot. My favorite being, of course, Bismil. Though what really captured my entranced attention was the score. So, so, …. Fuck I’m out of adjectives that would do justice. I hope the score will be out soon. I know what music I’m going to write to now.
I have never lived for more than two months in Kashmir. Most of my upbringing has been in Delhi, though I have visited Kashmir every year of my life since I was born, most of those years being the most dangerous. I have only fond memories. I have never once seen a terrorist/mujahid/militant/freedom-fighter/jihadist. And it’s not like I lived in a cordoned off posh area. In fact my family lives in one of the rather impoverished Shia neighbourhoods in Srinagar. Though that is not to say, that the distant sound of gunshots and bomb explosions was not a common sound. In my own way, a part of my brain would register them as the sound of Diwali fire crackers, and things would be festive in my mind again. I’ve had the most tranquil moments of reflection on the banks of the Nigeen lake, on a grass patch between abandoned houseboats. I’ve cried my eyes out laughing with my cousins at the millionth viewing of Andaz Apna Apna on local cable channels. And don’t even get me started on wazwan. The closest I’ve come to ‘danger’ was a scooter ride back from football practice, dodging a hail of stones, swerving around burning tyres, and slyly detouring to my aunts house who lived nearby. I’ve always thought of that memory as a rather funny adventure. My worried wailing mother on the other hand, did not.
On the contrary, I’ve heard personal first hand accounts of friends, acquaintances and even close cousins (mostly young men), about the dangers they’ve had to endure. From both the militants and the army. Some accounts are so chilling that I’d rather not get into them, for your sake and mine. ‘Jab do haathi ladte hain, neeche ghaas hi kuchli jaati hai‘. It saddens me to see tasteless Anti-India graffiti vomited on ancient walls. Though their distrust and disdain for the AFSPA and conversely the Armed forces, is not without reason. There are bad apples everywhere, even in Kashmir. I recommend Ashwin Kumar’s two brilliant documentaries – Inshallah, Football and Inshallah, Kashmir. They will show you a side of the story the mainstream media conveniently redacts. I’m not an expert on the subject and I’m not foolish enough to think that I might even have something close to an answer. If anything, having a foot in both worlds, has given me a rather confusing point of view, so I usually stay out of Kashmir based bar-conversations. Plus, whenever anyone looks at me for an explanation, I conveniently say, ‘I don’t know bro, I’m German’. Which is why, I love this film too. I went in as an outsider, and actually learnt a few things I did not know. Thank you Basharat Peer, I’m no one to challenge a reputed journalist and writer who, by the way, happens to be from Kashmir.
Haider is by far the most realistic depiction of Kashmir I’ve seen on screen so far. That includes Aamir Bashir’s heartbreaking Harud.
It’s a perfect balance that knocks you out of your seat in a jolt of energy and then in an instant makes you slow-down and wonder. The only think I would have liked to see more of was a bit more on the exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits. Though, the film takes place in a time when the people have ‘gotten over’ it.
The first scene I ever wrote was of a conversation between two friends on the banks of the Nigeen Lake, my spot of tranquility, hiding from the world, sharing a cigarette, something I’ve done a countless number of times. Since then I’ve rewritten, thrown out, written again, and rewritten it again. I think it’s time to finally finish it. Thank you Vishal Bhardwaj.
To everyone out there still deciding, please watch this film. It’s the real ‘Bang Bang’. I really hope it releases in Kashmir. Last I heard, my local cinema in Hawal Chowk was still an army bunker.