This Bollywood adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ relocates the drama to 1995 Kashmir, the source of an ongoing bloody territorial dispute between India, Pakistan and local insurgent groups.
When Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns home after being sent away to boarding school, he finds that his ‘half-widow’ mother Ghazala (Tabu) has drawn increasingly close to his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) since his father was taken into custody for harboring a suspected terrorist. Learning that it was this same uncle who engineered his father’s subsequent murder, Haider has to decide whether to take the path of vengeance.
Director Vishal Bhardwaj’s stunningly photographed film completes his ‘Bard’ trilogy after ‘Maqbool/Macbeth’ (2003) and ‘Omkara/Otello’ (2006). The performances are particularly strong, with veterans Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan bringing quiet dignity to the violent proceedings. But unlike Shakespeare’s play, which deals with the philosophical and ethical issues arising from murder, revenge and desire, this version adopts a less complex approach. The result is a tense, well crafted drama that lacks the deep emotional intensity required in its disturbed characters.
It also suffers from the usual Bolly-oddities: inordinate length, a tendency to over-explain events, obligatory romantic songs and a running ‘chutzpah’ joke, which is only funny the first time. Ultimately, ‘Haider’ works best as an unapologetic critique of the hard-handed operations of the Indian authorities occupying Kashmir.