A doctor in Kashmir valley is seen justifying himself while trying to save the life of a militant; an act considered at par with treason. On being asked by his wife as to which side he was on, the doctor replies – ‘Zindagi’…… But in the eyes of the army, a surgeon being honest to his profession is labeled a traitor. Should a serving Doctor toe the lines of the establishment and confine himself in political borders or should he be on the side of ‘Zindagi’ is something worth discussion. But we will leave this Humanist Vs Nationalist debate for some other article. For now, let us move ahead with Haider, a thought provoking representation of the sad picture of disturbed Kashmir valley.
Dr. Hilal Meer, a surgeon – played ably by Narendra Jha – is detained by the army for housing a terrorist. Kajaala (Tabu), shattered by the moving scenes of her bombed house, detained husband and an uncertain future takes refuge with Khurram Meer, doctor Saab’s younger brother and a lawyer by profession. The shady character of Khurram harbours dreams to win an election.
Shahid Kapoor plays Haider, who was sent to pursue his studies at Aligarh Muslim University lest he crosses the border someday. On returning from Aligarh, the only son of Kajaala and Dr. Meer is devastated at the sight of his bombed house, where memories of childhood with his parents are still afresh. Surprisingly, he finds his mother, bereft of sorrow, at his uncle Khurram’s house. Broken Haider vows to find out his missing father, who could probably be in one of the detention camps of Indian army.
Vishal Bharadwaj, the film maker has tried to entwine three different dimensions in a story and has been successful to a large extent in covering the contours of a vast subject. Of the three dimensions, one is a personal story of revenge and hatred. The second is of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law which gives unfettered powers to the army in detaining or killing anyone in the name of maintaining public order. Third angle to the story is Shakespearean. As he does with all his work, Vishal adapts a Shakespearean play, ‘Hamlet’ under the backdrop of a tumultuous Kashmir.
We all know that bollywood has done a lot of work on Kashmir, the Army and Indo-Pak relations. Most of such works have been from Delhi’s viewpoint and we’ve always been comfortable watching the story from our side of the court. Haider is different in the sense that it confronts the complicated issue of Kashmir from the eyes of a Kashmiri. In doing so, it comes closest to the inconvenient truth of the valley and films the inhuman role of a controversial law. Haider introduces us to much more than just anti-pakistan nationalist rhetoric. For the average cinema-goers, discomforting words like AFSPA, half widow, crackdown, detention camps, disappearance, etc are new and leaves one pondering. Most of us would find these words – which depict the painful scenario of valley – tough to fathom in the free comforts of our independent confines.
A section of our society is offended with the film calling it anti-army and anti-national, but fact remains that nowhere in the movie is our Army shown in any unreasonably negative light. True, the movie has, I think, missed the intensity with which the militants could have been projected. Of course, the representation of separatists with respect to the army is relatively soft and imbalanced, which might lead some of the audience into believing that the film qualifies to be anti-army. The militants are showcased as partners to a positive character, Haider – the hero, by helping him take revenge of his father’s death. Though, their intention behind sympathising with Haider is more political than personal, but the articulation eventually puts them in a relatively softer light viz-a-viz the Army.
Haider successfully narrates the pain and sorrow of the people whose family members have disappeared under the garb of AFSPA and showcases the collateral damages of a political warfare at a personal level. Haider’s desperate search for his missing father ends with the entry of Irrfan Khan, who plays Roohdaar, an ex inmate in the same camp along with Dr. Hilal Meer. Handing him a pistol, the separatists exhort Haider to take revenge for his father’s death.
The cinema has many high points with powerful and hard-hitting messages. Especially the one at Lal Chowk where Haider enacts UN resolutions, AFSPA & calls for Azaadi is impactful. In another scene, a guy refuses to enter his own house and keeps standing until Roohdaar frisks him and checks his iCard. Powerfully and succinctly presented, this two minute satire clearly explains the state of mind Kashmiris are in.
The film, I felt, lacked in the portrayal of its female characters, be it Haider’s mother – whose intent to dig out her husband’s whereabouts seemed casual and showed no signs of grief post his disappearance – or his girlfriend – who was dumb enough to divulge important secrets to her Police father. Moreover, women in the film are shown to have no opinion on the political and social narrative of their highly disturbed surroundings. Does it mean that only the men in Kashmir feel the pain, with which the women so easily remain aloof and unaffected? If Vishal were to answer this question in affirmative, there’s reason enough for some over enthusiastic feminist to even call Haider an anti-women film. The satirical use of an english word ‘Chutzpah’ helps light up the scenes with humour, at the same time is able to send across messages that the film intends to. My only point of contention here is its pronunciation, which correctly is (hoo-tspa) and not (choo-tspa) as spelt in the movie. But you can obviously gauge the intent behind this mistaken pronunciation, which can be granted to an artist in the name of improvisation. The attempt to create humour out of the Kashmiri dialect seems unnecessary and could have been done away with.
Haider takes bollywood one step ahead in maturely articulating the pain and turbulence of Kashmir from a new perspective. Apart from a slightly stretched second half, Haider is to be watched for its emotional engagement with the audience and the seriousness which it brings to the political discourse of Kashmir from a pure Kashmiri frame of reference.