(Gautham Ashok’s article appeared in the Diplomat, 10/13.)
It has been called the “standard bearer for a generation,” a deeply stirring look at Hamlet and Kashmir. It is the film Haider. Set in Srinagar in 1995, in the midst of militancy and a brutal Indian counterinsurgency, Haider (Shahid Kapoor) is shown returning home after he learns of his father’s disappearance. The Indian army has detained his father, accusing him of supporting militants. He’s on a mission to track down his father, but the haste with which his mother Ghazala (Tabu) moves on with her life and takes refuge in the arms of his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) disturbs him.
Struggling with both his unnatural love and hatred for his mother as she succumbs to the advances of Khurram, Haider makes a murderous vow to avenge his father’s death. The genius of this film is how its director Vishal Bharadwaj has managed to adapt Hamlet to a whole new setting, and yet as an audience one wonders if they are watching an entirely new story. Bharadwaj has deftly used the show-but-don’t-tell technique to give us a veiled peek at the lives of ordinary Kashmiris who have borne the brunt of the Indo-Pakistan border conflict. This is the great triumph of the film.