Last Wednesday, Bollywood director Vishal Bhardwaj visited UTM for a screening of his film, Haider (2014), one of the four movies that is part of UTM’s 50th anniversary Film Festival.
Haider is set in 1990s Kashmir, and is a modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s highly celebrated play Hamlet. Haider (Shahid Kapoor) is a young student who returns home to Kashmir, amid severe political unrest, to find that his father Dr. Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) is missing, and his mother Ghazala (Tabu) may be having an affair with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). What follows is a clash of personal and political conflicts which culminates in a bloodbath.
The film begins with the same image of political instability that we see in Hamlet set in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Historically, this area has been the centre of conflict between India and Pakistan for decades. What’s interesting about Haider is that it is one of the very few Bollywood films that depicts Kashmir realistically rather than a dramatization of it.
Being a student who studies Shakespeare, as w ell as someone from a South Asian background, I was eager to watch Haider and was pleasantly surprised by how the film borrowed from Shakespeare while incorporating novel elements. The film was riveting in its plot and had me on edge the whole time. I don’t think there was a single “down” moment. The conversational scenes kept you in the same amount of suspense as the action scenes did.
The comedic scenes provided the relief that we needed from the plot conflict—it came from two characters played by Sumit Kaul and Rajat Bhagat, who were based on Hamlet’s friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. An amusing scene was when Haider suddenly takes off, and the two characters look at each other, before hilariously exclaiming one after another, “To go?” “Or not to go?” Needless to say, this had the whole audience laughing.
After the screening, there was a Q&A session with the Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj told the audience how his inspiration for a Shakespearean film was not planned, but rather, it first occurred to him when he thought of merging the Mumbai underworld with Macbeth, resulting in his first Shakespeare adaptation. Bhardwaj mentioned that he loved making adaptations of Shakespeare, and he has taken a lot of liberty with the plots in these adaptations adding in his own changes.
Professor Holger Syme, who teaches the course ENG220 titled “Shakespeare,” offered his comments on why this particular movie was chosen.
“It brought together a lot of strengths on campus,” said Syme.
He remarked that this was viewed because it not only reflects the cultural diversity of the campus, but also because it brought together various departments, including English, South Asian studies, as well as visual studies.