Monday, October 13, 2014

Haunting Haider — Of Perspectives and Metaphors

In my favorite scene in Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider, Gazala (Tabu) walks into her old house that was destroyed by the Indian Army to meet her son Haider (Shahid Kapur). When she enters the house, there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that mirror, we see two faces of her. This two second scene can easily summarize the story of Haider. Later, Haider remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke." Haider, adapted from Shakespeare's Hamlet, is a story of perspectives. Characters talk about understanding a different perspective. Haider says to his mom, "Har baar, har waaqiya, sirf appki palko he peeche se hi nazar aana chahiye, hamesha? Kabhi to bhoole bhatke kisi aur ka nazariya dekhne ki koshish kijiye." Later, Parvez Lone (Lalit Paimoo) explains to his daughter, "Mera nazariya bhi to dekhne ki koshish karo." At another point, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) explains his version of the events of the death of his brother to Haider, after Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) had narrated his version of the same to Haider. This leitmotif of the other side is present not only in the characters' perspective but also in other aspects of the film. At many times, Haider moved by the plight of the Kashmiris says, "Hum hai ke hum nahi", "Hai ke hai nahi, bas yahi sawaal hai," or "Shak pe hai yakeen, yakeen pe hai shak mujhe", taking inspiration from Hamlet's "To be or not to be." At one point, an Army Officer stops Haider when he said he is going to Islamabad. Later, Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor) explains that Anantnag is also known as Islamabad. The Army Officer replies that for them there is only one Islamabad that is across the border, as if referring to the closed mindset of the Indian Army. Even in the song Bismil, Haider enacts a story of a two-faced falcon and one side of Haider's dress is black, and the other side is colored, again referring to some sort of duality. In fact, as a film, Haider explores another side of Kashmiri issue from the eyes of a Kashmiri, although one-sided but it tries to balance in the end.

Do chehre hai aap ke

Haider is easily the most talked about film of the year. Almost everyone has written glorious reviews of the film. I am not qualified enough to write such beautiful reviews that people have written, and since I have not even read Hamlet, I explore some metaphors that Vishal uses in the film. 

Arshia: As always, Vishal Bharadwaj uses metaphors to portray a deeper meaning and motivation of his characters. Like the red muffler and Arshia. Early in the film, we see that Arshia is knitting a red muffler. Later, when she completes it, she presents it as a gift to her father Parvez Lone. When Parvez goes to Khurram's place to take Haider to the hospital, he sees him with a gun. He, then, uses the muffler to tie Haider's hands. The muffler was a symbolic reference for Arshia. Parvez manipulated his daughter to extract information from her about Haider's plan to kill Khurram. The tying of the muffler on Haider's hand was again referring to the fact that Parvez used his daughter to stop Haider. The red muffler was Arshia herself. Later, after her father is shot by Haider, Arshia is sitting on a swing and is unknitting the muffler. A few moments later, she is lying on her bed, with the muffler completely unknit, and the strands of the red wool on her face. Again, this reflected that, just like the muffler does not exist anymore, she is also completely broken. Her father, whom she loved, has been shot dead by her lover. Her brother will now kill her lover and she has nothing to look forward to in her life. So, she also unknits herself from the world and commits suicide. This also reminded me of the kamarbandh in Omkara.

Salman and Salman: I, honestly, did not find them as funny as they were made out to be. Salman and Salman run a video parlor of Hindi films, and are Salman Khan fan-boys, and also, part-time police informants. These two Salmans share immense love for the superstar with whom they share their moniker. Their love for Salman is such that the cap they wear has Friend written on it, a reference to Maine Pyar Kiya. In the end, Haider kills the two Salmans by smashing them repeatedly with stones. Although the film showers some love for Salman Khan (even the torture camp at Finaz theater plays the song Main Hoon Deewana Tere Pyar Kya from another Salman-starrer Sangdil Sanam), the violent and the brutal end of these Salmans was as if it is some statement on the cinema that the real Salman Khan does. The end of the Salmans could be a vicarious action through which the director makes that point. Earlier in the film, Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) is giving a presentation and says, "Differentiation is the unique element. It is very important to be unique at something that is valuable to your customers." By this statement, Vishal was making a strong point about the kind of cinema he enjoys making. He wants to create a meaningful cinema, and he does not like the formula films which everyone is making these days. In an interview after the release of the film, he says, "Hum abhi bhi thieves ki filmein bana rahe hain." These could be subtle hints that Vishal is aiming at us and other filmmakers. Clearly, Vishal Bharadwaj has made a mark on the audience by bringing that unique element in his films. Perhaps, that is why everyone says that his films are different.

Chutzpah: Minimal Bollywood Posters has quite excellently made a minimalist poster of the film by just writing the word 'chutzpah' in its poster. Haider would go down in history for adding one new word to our lexicon. The film mispronounces the word as ch-oots-pa where as the correct pronunciation is h-oots-pa. This has become a bone of contention with some purists. Shobhaa De writes, "Watch the movie if only to learn a favourite Hebrew word I use a lot and loveChutzpah. Roughly translated, it means a certain audacity to get away with outrageous conduct. If only Bhardwaj and Co. had taken the trouble to find out how it is pronounced ('Hoots-pah' - NOT 'Choots-pa' as Haider keeps repeating), perhaps the movie itself would have felt more authentic." But I think this misses the point completely. Chutzpah and the Hindi pejorative chutiyapa mean almost the same thing. Also, chutzpah sounds almost the same as chutiyapah, the only difference being the 'y' and 'z' in the two words. Recall that Ishqiya, also produced by Vishal Bharadwaj, was made from two words—Ishq + Chutiya. That movie also started this new word Chutium Sulphate. So, this mispronunciation seems to be quite deliberate. It is quite unlikely that a film being made hundreds of people and not one would know its correct pronunciation. Everything in a Vishal Bharadwaj film is for a reason, so I do not agree that this was a miss. 

Parvez: Of all the characters, there was something menacing about Parvez. I found him even more chilling than Roohdar and Khurram because he was so unpredictable. He shot three terror suspects point black without any warning. Like Haider's relationship with his mother Gazala, there was something special about the relationship between Parvez and Arshia. At one point, when he gets to know Arshia delivered Roohdar's message to Haider, he cooks food for her and puts it in her mouth with his own fingers. There was some chilling quality about that scene as if he was trying to entice her and threaten her into submission to divulge information about Haider. It gave a feeling like a kidnapper is just about to catch a child by offering a bait. His act of giving food to his daughter after licking his own fingers pointed to some kind of Freudian Electra complex, opposite to that of Oedipus complex. Of course, Indian audiences are still not ready to accept such a portrayal. Later, when he is making a snowman, he is using a razor to scrape off the ice. The snowman was nothing but a reference to Haider, because when Arshia asked, "Yeh snowman hai?," he replies, "Nahi, tera shauhar hai. Naak theek hai na tere shauhar ki ya thori kaat dun."  It was as if he will cut everyone to size. Something terrifying about the police, even more than the Army.

Bulbul: At many places in the film, the metaphor of bulbul is used. Early in the film, Gazala's father-in-law remarks, "Hamara aasman kale parindon se ghira hua hai, kahi kisi chooze ko cheel utha ke le jati hai, to kahi kisi bulbul ko baaz zinda noch lete hai." Later, Army Officer TS Murthy (Aashish Vidyarthi) starts a counter-insurgency operation called Operation Bulbul and then he says, "Let the bulbul start singing, it is catch and kill."  In this context, bulbul is referring to Kashmir. Then, comes the most powerful song of the film Bismil. It is a fabulous piece of choreography, also known in Kashmiri language as bhaand in the film, that is one of the most terrific sequences. At one point in the song, the background dancers enact a brilliant step as if they are like stones being thrown in the river. The song is a warning to bulbul to not get trapped by the baaz. The falcon has gone to the dreams of the nightingale, and put poisonous stings in them. It has filled poison in the scent of flowers and sent it to the nightingale. So, in a way, Haider is giving a warning to his mother to not marry Khurram because she is like the bulbul herself. At an earlier point in the film, Gazala sings a Kashmiri folk song beautifully, as if she is a bulbul. Even her name Gazala is taken from the word gazal—a lyrical poem. This reference of bulbul links Gazala to Kashmir. Both were related to bulbul, and the film presents Gazala as Kashmir. Just like two brothers India and Pakistan were fighting for Kashmir, the two brothers, Khurram and Hilaal, were fighting for Gazala. And, in this war, Kashmir's children, like Haider, are crushed. In the song, the stage is surrounded by masks of a demon falcon, similar to the one that Haider wears in his house, before her mother's wedding as if giving a warning to her that Khurram is the baaz, who destroyed their family. There are some references to other animals as well throughout the film. At one point, Parvez says, "Do haathi jab ladte hai to ghaas hi kuchli jaati hai." At another point, Khurram says about Haider, "Vaishi bhediya ban chukka hai," and Gazala replies, "Shukar hai aasteen ka saap nahi bana."

Roohdaar and Jhelum: Vishal imbues Haider with more metaphors. So, Roohdaar is the rooh or the spirit of the doctor and that is why he is always dressed in white. The river Jhelum was also a reference to the pain and the devastation of Kashmir. At one point, Khurram says to Haider that Gazala was so broken by his father's disappearance that ro ro ke Jhelum bana di thi. Even the song Jhelum Jhelum Dhoonde Kinara was referring that the people of Kashmir are devastated by this turmoil and are looking for succor—kinara.  In another scene, a man played by the film's co-writer Bashrat Peer is unable to go inside his own house unless he is frisked. Beneath the veneer of humor was a poignant statement on the underlying emotional turmoil of the people of Kashmir.

Gazala: Without any doubt, the best performance in the film is by Tabu. She is excellent as Gazala and deserves all the praise she is getting for her role. It is a very complex role, and she shines in it. There is some mystery in Gazala that throughout the film we are not sure whether she was complicit in the murder or is just a victim. When Khurram gets elected, she wears sunglasses and is smiling. It is a vicious smile that for a minute it makes us feel that she committed the murder. But the next minute, she is concerned for her jaana and is truly disheartened when she sees her dead husband's picture. When she went to meet her father-in-law, she hugs Khurram as if there is some kind of affinity for him, but is taken back when Khurram makes some flirtatious statements in front of his father. We never know what she is. She is manipulative to the extent that she will threaten to shoot herself to ask her son to give in to her demands. Haider, rightly, says that she should work at the National School of Drama. 

In another great scene, Haider comes back from Aligarh and goes to his uncle's house and he stands behind a translucent purdah listening to the conversation between Gazala and Khurram. The purdah was what defined Gazala's mysticism, that we cannot see her clearly. There is something hidden and enigmatic about her like the purdah. In the beginning of the film, she is teaching a poem on house—What is a home? It is brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, it is unselfishly acts (sic) and kindly sharing, and showing your loved ones you are always caring—perhaps, pointing to the unhappiness in her marriage because her husband was always busy and she had no wajood in his life, so, sometimes, we wonder if she was a victim as well. But, then, she is sleeping in the same bed with Khurram, and we wonder if she did something terrible. As she says, "Kuch bhi kar lun, villain to main hi rehne vali hun." There is some kind of erotic Oedipus complex between the Haider and Gazala that in the end Gazala even gives a peck on Haider's lips. Gazala was the most amazing thing about Haider.

Haider: In Aligarh, Haider does research on 'Revolutionary Poets of British India', which explains from where he gets his rebellious ideas. Remember, in Rajneeti, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) wrote a thesis on 'The Sub-textual, Emotional Violence of the 19th century Victorian Poetry.'  I, also, felt that if Arshia was a muffler, Haider was a cap. At some points later in the film, Haider wears a cap. When Khurram narrates his version to him, he puts the ball of Haider's cap behind. I am still not sure what exactly it meant but the act of putting the ball could refer to Khurram giving his perspective. Vishal pays a tribute to his father Ram Bharadwaj in the title credits. Could it be the love that Haider has for his father, like polishing his father's shoes, inspired from Vishal's own story?  

Others: Pankaj Kumar's cinematography is wonderful. He shows us not the usual pretty Kashmir that we see in every film, but a darker underbelly of the place. There are decrepit alleys, abandoned houses, screeching eagles, leafless trees, haunting graveyards, and barbed wires—all pointing to a state of pathos. In one beautiful scene, all we see is the reflection of the army trucks in the eyes of a lady. There are gorgeously embroidered quilts, shawls, and curtains. The falling leaves of the autumn turn into harsh, cold winter in line with the movie's plot. Some extra points for the hypnotic background music of the film, too.

Message: About five years ago, Priyanka Gandhi, in an interview, had made a profound statement. On being asked if she had any anger for her father's killers, she had said, "Minute you realize that you're not a victim and that the other person is as much a victim of that same circumstance as you, then you can't put yourself in a position where you are anyone to forgive someone else. Because your victim hood has disappeared. And to me, people ask about non-violence, I think true non-violence is the absence of victim hood."  As I watched Haider, I was instantly reminded of this statement. At one point in Haider, Gazala's father-in-law states, "Hindustan me bhi azaadi lathi vala laya, bandook vala nahi. Bandook sirf intekaam lena jaanti hai, jab tak hum apne inteqaam se azaad nahi ho jate, tab tak koi azaadi humein azaad nahi kar sakti. Inteqaam se sirf inteqaam paida hota hai." This was the entire message of the film that true freedom can only be achieved when one lets go of the feeling of the revenge, else we all get stuck into a vicious cycle of revenge, and there will be no real freedom. Freedom is not only the physical freedom, but emotional and mental freedom. The opposite of not love is not hate, but indifference because hate means that there is still some connection. Howsoever, powerful is the person, eventually we all die. "Jism gal ke mitti ban jaata hai aur mitti se bante hai ghade, suraahi, khilone. Sikandar ho ya Akbar, Hitler ho ya Gandhi, sab mitti me mil jaate hain." In the final scene, Haider faces a dilemma. His father wanted him to take revenge, but his mother advised to let go of revenge. And, he did let go, and attained true freedom. That is why it is completely befitting of the film to be released on Gandhi Jayanti to spread Gandhi's message. 

Books in Movies:
Gazala's house has A Certain Justice by P.D. James. 

I watched this movie in a theater so I do not have the screenshot, but there was one funny subtitle. Arshia calls a South Indian officer a masala-dosa, and it was subtitled as a burrito. Masala-dosa becomes a burrito!

At one point in the film, an Army signpost reads, "When You've Got Them By The Balls, Their Hearts And Minds Will Follow." The source of the quote is unclear, but it was used most often in Vietnam war. This quote was also present in the 1976 film All the President's Men. By this, the film explains the ideology of the Indian Army towards Kashmiri people.

A lot has been written on Haider already. It has divided people. Some loved it, while some say that it is too one-sided. I don't know much about the intricacies of the issue of Kashmir but as a film Haider is fabulous. However, if one wants to read a perspective from another side, read this fabulous article which explores some loopholes in Haider.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Kaid me azaadi bahut yaad aati hai." 
— Parvez, Haider

"Bas intezaar hi likha hai meri kismat me." 
— Gazala, Haider


  1. Awesome post Pankaj. I had also recently seen this movie and had been thinking about it. You raised quite a few points which I was also thinking about such as - shraddha eating food from her father's hands, deliberate mispronounciation of chutzpah, unweaving of muffler - as if things were about to fall apart. I too had wondered why the operation was named 'bulbul'.

    If you remember, the background score of the movie was quite good and haunting after one part, especially when ruhdaar was telling his story and towards the end as well.

    Good one Pankaj.

  2. I mistakenly came across your blog while searching for "Suhashini Haider" and I am happy I did. I am a reader of movies too and Haider is to me one of the finest movies in Indian Cinema. Glad to hear a few more perspectives to the narrative of the film that could be an endless search. The movie like you said is fully about perspectives and VB has did justice to one side of the argument. For me, it's the characterizations that were the best especially that of Gazala and Haider. It trancends you to a different world. And what better place to shell out the tragic tale of Hamlet than Kashmir. Great work bro. Keep writing :)

  3. 'Kashmir vo khubsoorat aurat hai jise sabne hasil karna chaha par samhal koi nai paya. Aur aj vo luti lutayi padi hai'
    I agree that Haider tell one side of the story but this is also a side that exists. Hope we see more films about the place from other perspectives too. I loved how you described Gazala as Kashmir and her lovers as the nations fighting for it and Haider- the people of Kashmir. I hope all those who lost anything in Kashmir find peace and get their land back, beautiful and charishmatic as ever.

  4. TABU was brilliant.. i loved shahid kapoor for the first time.. yes, vishal b. make brilliant and different movies. the salman reference was just hillarious.. the songs were beautiful too.. and the eye scene was best.. i was also confused about ghazala's character till the end.. and the chutzpah word.. haha.. awesome post as well.. i loved the dialogues..

    1. Yes, same here. It is one of my favorite films, and shows why I love Tabu so so much :)

  5. I simply loved the way Vishal Bhardwaj mixed Hamlet concept with Kashmir issue. His best Indian adaptation of Shakespeare works. His music is simply awesome.


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