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Shakespearean Revenge in a Violent Kashmir
'Haider' Puts an Indian Twist on 'Hamlet' NYT Critics' Pick
By Rachel Saltz
October 2, 2014
[Caption] Tabu, as the Gertrude character in this
adaptation of "Hamlet" set in 1995.
Credit UTV Motion Pictures
Instead of "Haider," the director Vishal Bhardwaj might
have considered calling his fast-and-loose adaptation of
"Hamlet" "Ghazala," after its Gertrude character.
As played by the sad-eyed Tabu, Ghazala has such depths
and mystery that she hijacks the movie, pushing Haider
(Hamlet) to the sidelines in his own story. It's her
interior drama that draws you in: Where does her loyalty
lie? What is she thinking? Will she take up arms against
a sea of troubles and, by opposing, change the tale? (She
certainly threatens to once or twice.)
By comparison Haider (Shahid Kapoor) is a simple fellow.
In an un-Hamletlike way, he knows what he wants - to
avenge his father - and cannily goes after it.
"Haider," which grafts its source story less convincingly
to its setting, doesn't flow as organically. . . .
Continues at:
Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
Om Shanti Oct 08 09:01PM

Just look at this clip from the movie , when Macbeth accuses
his uncle , the choreography , lyrics. Bollywood at its best.
Any militant thinking of infiltrating Kashmir will surely get
deterred by seeing this treatment meted out to them in Indian army
prisons !
Set in Indian Kashmir , the photography is great , could have
done with a couple of Kashmiri wedding dances. The songs are subtitled
Haider is not the only story of Kashmir

'That it should come to this' (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene II)
The following excerpts are from former Jammu and Kashmir governor
Jagmohan's book My frozen turbulence in Kashmir.
'In 1995, 2768 persons were killed. The Security forces were attacked
2570 times, that is, on an average about seven times a day. The number
of security personnel killed increased from 198 in 1994 to 234 in
1995. 211 more civilians were killed in 1995 than in 1994.'
'January 26- Two Bombs exploded near the saluting base and one at the
entrance of the Stadium. Eight persons, including a 'black cat
commando', two Army Jawans , two police constables and two officials
of the State Information Department, were killed. 54 others injured.
The Governor himself had a providential escape.'
'February 6 - An Army vehicle carrying Army Jawans from Jammu
Cantonment was blown near Jorian, by a powerful mine. Nine Army men
lost their lives. In another similar landmine blast near Khumriyal in
Kupwara district, six Army Jawans and a civilian were killed'
'May 13-1995- In Bharat Village of Doda, eight Hindus were shot dead
and about half a dozen seriously injured by terrorists. Doda had
virtually become a domain of Pro Pakistan militants and foreign
Other than these incidents which have more or less been forgotten now,
but chronicled painstakingly by Jagmohan in his book, 1995 stands out
for two incidents that marked the peak of Islamist jihad in Kashmir.
In March 1995, a fierce encounter between security forces and Mast
Gul, Pakistani commander of a dreaded jihadi outfit broke out in the
Char-e-Sharif shrine. Mast Gul and many foreign mercenaries like him
had laid siege to the shrine. After days of a stand off, the entire
village, including the shrine, was burnt and Mast Gul managed to
escape. According to Pakistani newspapers, Mast Gul managed to cross
the LoC (Line of Control) and was accorded a hero's welcome in
Another defining moment of the Kashmir jihad happened in July 1995
when a lesser known outfit known as Al Faran kidnapped six western
tourists in Anantnag district. Six victims, including two British
tourists, two Americans, a German and a Norwegian were abducted. One
American tourist managed to escape, but the Norwegian tourist was
beheaded and the words Al Faran were carved on to his chest. The
other four are now presumed to be dead.
None of these above mentioned incidents found even a fleeting
reference in Vishal Bhardwaj's much talked about recent release
Haider. We are told that Haider is set in 1995 Kashmir, but clearly,
Bhardwaj is not interested in all aspects of the history and politics
of Kashmir. He is only interested in the adaptation of Hamlet in an
Indian setting and Kashmir provides a fantastic backdrop, as would
have any other region, like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, that
has been torn by strife. The story of love, betrayal, deceit and
revenge could have worked anywhere. In India however, no other
conflict grabs international headlines like Kashmir does. No other
conflict attracts as much opinion as Kashmir and Bhardwaj has been
vindicated because by the end of the first week of its release, Haider
will probably have more reviewers than viewers.
Next, Bhardwaj juxtaposes Curfewed Nights written by Basharat Peer
with Hamlet and produces a potpourri that works at the cinematic level
but has nothing to do with the real story of Kashmir. In Bhardwaj's
world view, Kashmir is incidental and the tale of deceit and revenge
takes precedence. Basharat Peer who is also the script writer of the
film provides the political slant which exists in his book and his
writings about Kashmir. Together, the Bhardwaj-Peer combo provides you
with a strange mix that looks like Kashmir, but at the same time seems
so removed from it.
Shakespeare's Hamlet is considered an unlikely hero because he is
indecisive and just can't make up his mind about anything. His five
soliloquies in the play confirm that Hamlet is forever questioning and
contemplating. However, while adapting Hamlet; Bhardwaj seems to have
had no doubts. There are no grey areas for him. The Indian State is
the evil. The Indian Army is the occupational force and all terrorists
are innocent folk who would rather quote Faiz than kill or plot
against India. Not for Bhardwaj are many fascinating stories of rescue
and bravery by the forces. Not for Bhardwaj are the gut-wrenching
stories of soldiers from Chennai, to Manipur to Haryana serving in
Kashmir, where every square inch of land is hostile. Not for Bhardwaj
is the story of Kashmir which is the most subsidized state of the
Indian Union and which enjoys the special status that no other state
does. Bhardwaj also does not seem to be interested in providing any
backdrop to the armed insurgency in Kashmir. It seems to have escaped
him that Kashmir was never annexed by India and therefore the Indian
Army is not an occupational force nor does he seem to have understood
the civilizational connect India has with Kashmir which happens to be
as old as the history of Indian civilization. Bhardawaj hasn't made a
film about Kashmir. Bhardawaj has simply made an adaptation of Hamlet
set in Kashmir. That is why historical accuracy is of no consequence
to him, nor the incidents that happened in the year that he has set
his fictional story in. Haider is about the indulgence of its director
and uni-dimensional world view of its script writer.
In 1995, most Hindus had been thrown out of the Kashmir valley by
Islamists. I suppose that is why there is no reference to them in the
film. Bhardwaj's Kashmir is a place where only Muslims live; only
mosques exist, only women with covered heads roam around. Bhardwaj's
camera never stops even for a fraction of a second at the burnt house
of a Kashmiri Pandit or a dilapidated temple where not too long ago
the sound of conches reverberated the air. Since this movie is not
about the real Kashmir, Pandits too don't find a place in Bhardwaj's
canvas. It does hurt that any filmmaker can conceive a film about
Kashmir without any reference to Kashmiri Pandits (a fleeting
15-second reference by an Army Officer does not count) but that is the
reality. While azaadi remains a distant dream and will never happen,
Kashmir exists as an Islamic state where minorities have been driven
My eyes strained to find anything that I could identify with in
Bhardwaj's Kashmir. I could find nothing and then suddenly I found
myself in the ruins of the Martand Sun Temple. This is where my
parents took me when I was a little girl and my father told me the
story of King Lalitaditya who had built the archeological marvel. It
was destroyed during the Islamic rule by Sikandar Butshikan and legend
has it that it took him a whole year to destroy the beautiful Sun
temple. When I visited the ruins as a little child, I was surprised
that my father took off his shoes to walk on the stones and made me
take off my shoes too. For him, these ruins were our sacred past and
taking our shoes off was a sign of respect. In Bhardwaj's Kashmir, the
ruins of the Martand Sun Temple are just a prop, a backdrop where
'Band Pather' is performed, where menacing dancers with shoes on their
feet perform a dance portraying revenge and retribution. It was
appropriate that I found myself in the ruins of Martand. With little
or no presence of Hindus in Kashmir, it is appropriate that I identify
myself only with the ruins of Martand.
I watched the movie without shedding any tears. My tears seem to have
dried up or so I thought. But when the film ended and I read an odd
line of gratitude to Indian soldiers for helping during the recent
floods, I could hold it no longer and wept copious tears at what I
thought was an attempt to add insult to the injury. In the movie, the
Indian army is the villain, it has no humane face, no valiant stories
that the director could think of incorporating. But in the end
credits, he thinks about thanking the Army as an afterthought, for
helping during floods. That is when I could no longer control my tears
at the hypocrisy of it all and lopsided political world view of Vishal
Bhardawaj and Basharat Peer.
Views expressed are the author's own Oct 08 05:16AM -0700

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