Saturday, October 04, 2014

haider: Vishal triumphs with his third

What does one say when a man like Vishal Bhardwaj praised for his skills in writing dialogue surprises you pleasantly by becoming a scribe of visuals?

Should I be disappointed not to find as many memorable utterances in Haider as I had in Omkara or Maqbool, his previous adaptation of the Bard's works?

Should I not see how 7 Khoon Maaf had offered some hints that Vishal was working on being a chef in another form of cinematic cuisine?

Should I dispell all the little things that connect Haider to his previous work? The reflections and the mirrors (with all their metaphors) from Maqbool? The return of Tabu and Irrfan from Maqbool? Tabu sharing the mirror with a different man. Most of this is, of course, inevitable, because it's the same actress playing Lady Macbeth and Gertrude.

Should I wish that some lines of dialogue didn't see to explain the rather obvious visual cue?

Or should I just sit back and watch a filmmaker, who is a great craftsman, a wonderful music director, a good singer, a great writer with an appreciation for the spoken (and unspoken) word, paint an ode to Kashmir of the kind that we have not seen in years?

Should I just chuckle and wonder if the chutzpah riff (adapted with credit from Osho talks) is supposed to remind me of an offensive Hindi word (after all, nobody pronounces it the way it's supposed to be pronounced)?

While films like Talaash (the answer lies within) (the most recent example from my viewing) continue to explore the hues of Bombay, I don't remember any Hindi film in recent times that did what Haider has done for Kashmir. All the colour and beauty in the culture and fabric of the place comes up on the screen with a strange mix of verve and melancholy. In sharp contrast to every bright burst of colour is a lurking sense of dread and fear and sadness.

There's all this and more in support of the most loose of Vishal's takes on William Shakespeare. Yes, we have the obvious players, the creative adaptations (Rosencratz and Guildenstern are transformed into a pair of Salmans -- fans of Salman Khan -- running a video store; the ghost of Hamlet's father is interpreted as an appropriately named bearer of bad news; the adaptation of "The Mouse-Trap") and the delightful trinity of gravediggers, but the famous soliloquoy gets adapted to a form that might disappoint those keen on hearing a good Hindi version of "to be or not to be" and the skull of Yorick gets a political twist at a different point in the narrative. Moreover, it's only until after the interval that anything suggesting that the Bard was involved really takes shape. The first half is dedicated entirely to a gripping preparation of the milieu and ends with the "appearance of the ghost" (in a manner of speaking), rendered with an interesting flourish of the camera.

Perhaps this is why very few songs from the soundtrack actually appear in the film. If you were expecting to hear Vishal Dadlani or Suresh Wadkar, prepare to be disappointed. Perhaps this is also why khul kabhii seems a tad out of place and almost a throwback to the obligatory song sequences of traditional Bollywood cinema.

But these are just quibbles in the face of what is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the year. There is so much to relish in the craft -- the visual cues for exposition (hint: watch the nameplates outside the houses); the cameos (fellow screenwriter Basharat Peer appears as the Kashmiri suffering from the "New Disease" (itself a reference to 'Nav Byemaer' by Akhtar Mohiuddin); the examples of Chekhov's gun. There is so much to enjoy in the performances (Tabu, in my opinion, leads the list: it's almost like she was Heath Ledger's Joker to Shahid Kapoor's Batman). There's all the learning in the dialogue (for once, the subtitles slapped onto prints that run in the US were a welcome aid in my education). There are motifs in things people say (looking at things from someone else's point of view). And then there's the sight of Kashmiris stepping out during the crackdown with identity cards. The sequence at the square where we see Haider's new look. And the climax.

Time to see if I can get back to the movie hall and watch this again.

1 comment:

Parth said...

I got a chance to see this in the theaters last week as well. I agree about the leaning towards the visual appeal of the movie. I thought the writing was still very good but the real surprise and hence a letdown was the music, especially for the Vishal-Gulzar combo. Additionally, the editing in the second half could have been sharper. But that doesn't take away from the overall excellence of the movie.

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