Haider Review



Haider is Vishal Bhardwaj’s third Shakespeare adaption in his trilogy following Maqbool and Omkara. It is the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is co-written by Vishal Bhardwaj and Basharat Peer. Basharat Peer is a Kashmiri journalist and the author of Curfewed Night, a personal account about growing up in Kashmir. Haider takes place in Kashmir in 1995 and it appears to be the Hamlet adaptation of Peer’s book. The film stars Shahid Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Tabu, Shraddha Kapoor and Irrfan Khan in a special appearance.

The film is about Haider, who returns home to Srinagar to a burned down home and a missing father. His father is a doctor and was taken by the Indian army when it was discovered that he treated and hid separatists in his home. Haider had been sent to school to Allahabad by his mother some years ago so that he wouldn’t join the Kashmiri separatist movement. As soon as Haider returns home, he is distraught seeing his mother and uncle, singing and laughing when Haider himself is worrying about his father.

This is only the beginning to Haider’s worries. His confusion and anger only increases when Roohdaar, a friend of his father’s, brings the message that his father has died and that his uncle is responsible for it. Haider’s father wants Haider to take revenge from his uncle. To top it all, Haider’s uncle finds out about Roohdaar and Haider’s meeting and tells Haider a different story where he blames Roohdaar for Haider’s father’s death. The confusion and anger pushes Haider into a realm of uncertainty and madness. Will Haider take revenge?

Haider is brilliance on screen. Vishal Bhardwaj couldn’t have made a better Hamlet adaptation. I don’t think that any review can do full justice to this film and mine certainly will not either.

I did not have any interest in this film until the film started running and reviews began to come in. I hadn’t read such good reviews about any film in recent times and my intrigue soon developed into full anticipation for Haider. If anyone doubts whether reviews matter, here is your answer.


I also recommend the 1996 Hollywood Hamlet adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh.

I had read Hamlet in middle school. In fact, I had even memorized and recited the famous “To be or not to be…” soliloquy from the play in class. But I couldn’t remember the play entirely and I wasn’t sure of whether I needed to renew my memory about Hamlet prior to seeing Haider. For those wondering the same, the answer is no, it is not necessary to know Hamlet to experience this extraordinary film. Thanks to Vishal Bhardwaj’s brilliant idea to set the film in Kashmir in the mid 90s, the film is a thrilling ride regardless of whether one knows Hamlet or not. But I must mention that knowing Hamlet increases the entertainment element a notch.

There are no poor performances in this film. There are no awkward moments, no unsaid lines, nothing that should have been different than what it was. As complex as the story and every single character was in the film, it is inconsistently perfect, just as Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to be.

We will never see Shahid Kapoor the same way again after Haider. Shahid Kapoor is amazing in this film. If you don’t believe me, watch the scene when Haider goes “mad.” In fact, watch Shahid in every single scene in the second half and tell me if anyone could have played Hamlet better than him. He lived his role with such intensity and conviction that he surpassed seasoned actors whom we look up to as our best, like Tabu and Irrfan. I think Shahid Kapoor as Haider just wrote his acceptance speech for the National Award.

Like I said, there are no poor performances. Shraddha Kapoor is another name who has shown her capacity as an actor in this film. Although I had imagined Arshia as a little more oppressed and passive, this character’s innocence was perfectly portrayed by Shraddha.

Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan also did exceptionally well. Tabu’s character Ghazala and her relationship with her son Haider is a very important thread in the story. And the performances of Tabu and Shahid truly carried the film through.

Something I was curious to see in the film was the “Oedipus Complex” that some attribute to the original Hamlet character. This is a disorder where a child develops sexual attraction to the parent of the opposite sex. This attribution to Hamlet was made by Sigmund Freud hundreds of years after Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. It is a theory that some use to explain why Hamlet did not kill his uncle right away.

I was both nervous and apprehensive to see how this concept could be portrayed in Indian cinema without outraging the viewers. But I can now report that the filmmaker did not really dive into those waters. There were a few scenes where it was mildly suggested that the mother-son relationship is not entirely conventional. But there was nothing openly suggested and that was the right call because the original play does the same.

There is certainly a strong bond between mother and son. There are strong emotions. The mother’s love is like any mother’s. And Haider, he loves his mother but his love is entangled in feelings of betrayal and hatred. In fact, in one scene, Ghazala says that she knows Haider loves his father more than he loves her. And Haider’s love for his father is reiterated throughout the film. Following Haider, the Ghazala character is the most complex character in the film and a separate post can be written on her alone.

Vishal Bhadwaj has changed the ending of the play though. And I think that he might have done that because he didn’t want to just make a Hamlet adaptaton. I think he also wanted to give a message about Kashmir and all that Kashmiris have suffered in the past several decades. He wanted to end the story with a little more hope. He wanted to end the story with “intiqam se sirf intiqam payda hota hai, jab tak hum apne intiqam se azad nahi ho jate, tab tak koi azadi hume azad nahi karsakti.”

Vishal Bhardwaj is also a music composer and he composed the music of this film (talk about multi-talented!) which was just perfect. First of all, the background score was very apt. It was dramatic, yet eerie and created the perfect tension for the film. The song Bismil was the “play in a play” act in Hamlet where Hamlet puts on a play to find out if his uncle is guilty by watching his reactions. I didn’t think that any filmmaker or choreographer could uncover further the immensely talented Shahid Kapoor’s dancing skills, but they did it with Bismil. The So Jao song by the three grave diggers was also very amusing.

Bhardwaj also stayed true to Hamlet by incorporating comedy into the screenplay in the most interesting way. There can be nothing more difficult than adding comedy into such a serious and dark film without those scenes feeling raw and ill-fitted. The fact that Bhardwaj pulls this off effortlessly is sufficient proof of his fine craft. The Salman and Salman introduction scene and the gravediggers’ scene were the most memorable.

I read a review where a critic described the dialogues in Haider as poetry and I completely agree. I think that the language and the dialogues were beautiful. But they were not so foreign that the audience would have difficulty understanding. They did not sit down and translate Hamlet’s dialogues into Hindi and I’m glad for that. The dialogues were original, extraordinary and deeply meaningful. I’m not familiar with the Kashmiri dialect but all the actors did their best and I think they were convincing.

Of course I am recommending this film to you. Despite some interesting films coming up in the next few months, I am confident enough to say that Haider is as good as Indian cinema will get this year. This is not a film that can be digested with one viewing. It will require several more viewings. I have not seen Maqbool and Omkara but I think that Haider will be spoken of as one of Bhardwaj’s best for many years to come.

Haider is the quintessential modern day tragedy, a precedent for future Indian filmmakers and a standard of exquisite filmmaking for critics. If nothing else, this film will teach you the meaning of chutzpah.

My handy little table for Hamlet and Haider

Hamlet Haider


Hamlet Haider (Shahid)
Gertrude (mother) Ghazala (Tabu)
Ophelia (love interest) Arshia (Shraddha)
Claudius (uncle) Khurram (Kay Kay Menon)
Ghost of father Roohdaar (father’s friend, Irrfan)
Polonius (Ophelia’s father) Pervez (Lalit)
Laertes (Ophelia’s brother) Liyaqat (Aamir)
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (Courtiers) Salman & Salman

(Sumit, Rajat)

Setting Elsinore Royal Palace, Denmark Srinagar, Kashmir
Time period 14th-15th century 1995
Political background Norway plans to invade Denmark Kashmir conflict, Indian army, insurgent groups
Religious background Protestant Christian Muslim

My favorite dialogue from Haider:

Arshia: Sab ko shak hai ki tum pagal ho rahe ho.


Shak pe hai yakeen toh,
Yakeen pe hai shak mujhe.

Arshia: Matlab?


Matlab, Ruhdaar ka afsana sachcha,
Ya jhooti kahaani chacha ki…
Kiska jhoot jhoot hai,
Kiska sach mein sach nahi?
Hai ki hai nahi?
Bas yehi sawaal hai.
Aur sawaal ka jawaab bhi sawaal hai.

Arshia: Kya?


Dil ki agar suno toh hai,
Dmaag ki toh hai nahi.
Jaan loon ke jaan doon?
Main rahoon ke main nahi?

Also read review of Shahid’s Udta Punjab.


3 thoughts on “Haider Review

  1. Pingback: The ‘Half-Spirited’ Half Girlfriend | BollyReview

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