Haider

Haider

Watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest film Haider is a visceral and haunting experience, as the gorgeous detail of the film allows every emotion and each drop of blood to be shown in crystal clarity. The story of treachery in Denmark is transplanted to Kashmir at the height of increased militancy in the area in 1995, but still remains tragedy on a grand scale. Bhardwaj and his co-writer Basharat Peer have successfully adapted the bard’s play into more modern-day India, although the pacing is a little inconsistent in places and at times the Kashmiri issue threatens to overshadow the personal drama. The heart of the film is in the performances, and although Shahid Kapoor is excellent in probably one of the best performances of his career, the real stand-out is Tabu who is completely mesmerising in her role as a conflicted mother to Haider and disloyal wife to Dr Hilal Meer. It is compelling cinema and definitely well worth watching in the theatre to fully appreciate the stunning cinematography and spectacular beauty of Kashmir.

Haider (Shahid Kapoor) is a student, safely studying poetry in Anantnag when he learns that his father has disappeared after providing medical aid to a militant leader. Dr Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) is taken by the army in a truly frightening scene that manages to grasp the sense of hopelessness and terror of a military raid in just a few moments. The grim method of selecting who may go and who is arrested by a balaclava-wearing man in a Jeep is chilling, as is the resignation that makes everyone line up for inspection without any word of complaint. The detail in each frame is incredible, and the performances are very natural, making the film seem almost like a news report direct from the action, rather than a fictional story.

Dr Meer’s family home is also bombed, along with the militant leader still inside, and in a few seconds his wife Ghazala (Tabu) has become a ‘half-widow’ without anywhere to live. As a result, when Haider returns he finds his mother living with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), and he is instantly suspicious about their relationship. While rejecting his mother, Haider relies heavily on his girlfriend journalist Arshia (Ahraddha Kapoor) and two friends Salman (Sumit Kaul) and Salman (Rajat Bhagat) as he searches for his father. Since up until this point the film is unrelentingly bleak, it’s a real relief when the comedy appears, and Salman and Salman are an excellent counterpoint to the violence and despair elsewhere.

Haider’s search for his father is heart wrenchingly sad, as he is just another one of many who are searching for their own disappeared relatives. However, interspersed with his search are confrontations with his mother and uncle which fuel Haider’s anger and mistrust. The relationship between Haider and Ghazala is wonderfully nuanced and both actors capture the essence of Shakespeare’s characters and their conflicted emotions well. There is a frisson of sexual tension, heightened since Tabu looks way too young to be Shahid’s mother, but mainly the film focuses on Haider’s sense of betrayal when his mother takes up with his father’s killer. Kay Kay Menon is also effortlessly perfect, juggling Khurram’s political ambitions with his desire for Ghazala and bringing more depth to the Shakespearean character of Claudius than I seem to remember from studying the original play at school.

The romance between Haider and Arshia is also nicely developed, and Arshia has a believable character as a journalist and relatively realistic relationships with her brother Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) and father (Lalit Parimoo). Shraddha Kapoor is good in her role, particularly in her scenes with Shahid and she’s also credible in her despair when she loses the plot after her father dies. Most of the other characters from Shakespeare’s play appear, although the role of the ghost is changed into a fellow prisoner of Dr Meer who is expertly played by Irrfan Khan.  Most impressive is the ‘play within a play’ which in is depicted as a song. The puppets are wonderful, but even just a glimpse of Tabu and Kay Kay Menon in this clip illustrates just how good they both are in conveying their characters.

Haider’s eventual descent into madness is dealt with better than the earlier scenes where Shahid sometimes appears a little too distant. But as the film progresses his emotional shifts and internal struggles are mostly well represented and he does genuinely appear to be a conflicted personality by the end. Many of the famous lines from the original Hamlet appear in Haider’s soliloquies, although they are also inserted into various conversations (and the subtitles don’t really do them justice), and there is even a brief appearance of the skull before the final, and very bloody showdown. This is passion, vengeance, despair and madness writ large and the scope of the film truly feels epic.

Haider impresses with fine attention to detail and excellent performances from the entire cast. However the shift to Kashmir means the military conflict looms large in the story and as a result the original tale of betrayal and treachery occasionally gets a little lost. The pacing is uneven, particularly in the first half, but this allows time for the complexity of the characters to fully develop so isn’t necessarily a flaw with the film. It is a bleak story and be warned that some scenes are definitely not for the squeamish as the body count piles up and cinematographer Pankaj Kumar illustrates just how well snow contrasts with blood. Overall Haider is a well crafted and novel interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and one I definitely recommend watching for excellent performances and a rather different view of Kashmir.

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Kaminey

I’ve been a Shahid Kapoor fan for quite some time and have always been convinced that he’s a good actor who just needs a better film to really show his acting chops. And Kaminey is that better film. Shahid excels here as an actor rather than just a pretty face with some nifty dance moves. While Jab We Met was a great performance from Shahid as a romantic hero, here he steps out of that more traditional chocolate box role to deliver an excellent performance as a darker action character.  Kaminey takes much of its influence from directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, but for all that it has its own unique flavour with a number of plot points that are distinctly Indian.

The story revolves around two brothers, Charlie and Guddu, both played by Shahid Kapoor. Although they are identical twins, the two hate each other and haven’t seen or spoken to each other in years.

Charlie

Guddu

Charlie provides the narration for the film and after a brief introduction about his philosophy on life as trains rush past, we see him running through a station. This sets the tone for the rest of the film: fast-paced and headlong with very few stops for breath along the way. Although the film does follow a fairly linear story path, there is plenty of misdirection and a number of twists and turns which keeps the final outcome in doubt until the very end.

Charlie works as a petty criminal in the world of fixing horse races and is what my family would call a ‘chancer’. His ambition in life is to be a bookie although just at present he is working for a trio of completely crazy Bengali brothers (Rajatabha Dutta and Deb Mukherjee). The youngest brother is Charlie’s best friend and the two have a very close relationship, although Mikhail (Chandan Roy Sanyal) also acts as a source of random mayhem pretty much every time he appears on screen.

Guddu, the other twin, is a softer and sweeter character who works for an NGO promoting AIDS awareness when he’s not studying. I listened (and sang along) to the sound track before the film released and never picked that this was a song about AIDS, but the picturisation makes it quite clear. It’s a great song and one of the more novel introductions of a character I’ve seen. Plus I love that everyone ends up wearing gigantic red mesh condoms at the end.

In one of those little ironies that litter the film, Guddu hasn’t followed his own advice and his girlfriend Sweety (Priyanka Chopra) is pregnant. The revelation is excellently scripted and is used to reveal a lot about both characters. Guddu doesn’t approve of abortion but as marriage doesn’t fall into his life plan he really doesn’t have a solution, other than letting Sweety deal with the situation as best she can. Sweety though is quick to point out that her brother is the notorious gangster Sunil ‘Chopper’ Bhope and that if Guddu wants a life of any sort he’d better figure something out – and fast!

So with his life plan in tatters and his future looking grim, Guddu sees no other option but marriage which totally delights Sweety. The romance is rather glossed over and from subsequent conversations it’s hard to understand exactly why the couple stick together, but the cut song Pehli Baar Mohabbat  describes their relationship beautifully. I can see why the song wasn’t used though as the slow pace doesn’t suit the rest of the film. Instead Raat Ke Dhai Baje captures the different attitudes Guddu and Sweety have towards the marriage and keeps the mood more upbeat.

Meanwhile, through a series of chances Charlie has got his hands on a large quantity of drugs and plans to sell them to realise his dream. The original owners of the drugs and their various minions are, of course, keen to get their hands on the drugs and once they know who has them, they’re keen to get their hands on Charlie as well.

So we have the two brothers each being pursued by different sets of gangsters for different reasons. Being twins it’s not long before the two get confused and end up being dragged into each other’s problems, although it’s nowhere near as straightforward as that makes it sound.

What I really like about this film is the clever script and the way the story keeps evolving. It’s also the best role I’ve seen Shahid play and he’s totally convincing as the twin brothers. Guddu and Charlie look different as well as having quite distinctive personalities and each has the added bonus of a different speech defect. Guddu has a stutter while Charlie pronounces s as f which makes for some funny and memorable lines from both.  At first I really didn’t think the speech impediments were going to add much to the plot and were going to be played for cheap laughs, but instead the humour is much sharper and the way they speak also helps define the characters more clearly.

Charlie is tough and used to dealing with the underworld. He can fight, think fast on his feet and is decisive and determined. Guddu is much softer (he even looks less muscled), he doesn’t like to fight and avoids conflict where possible. Guddu does come across as more selfish and self-absorbed than his brother but I think this is mainly because Charlie’s relationship with Mikhail allows more of his open and sociable side to be seen. Charlie appears to be the more dominant twin, but later events show that Guddu is equally determined and quite capable of standing up for himself when it’s something he cares about. Both brothers have been affected by their poor relationship with each other and this adds more shade to their characterisations.

It’s not just the two brothers who have well drawn characters. Sweety has plenty of personality and Priyanka is excellent here as the feisty girl who is willing to fight Guddu’s battles for him. She has shed her more usual glamour and is almost unrecognisable in her cheap cotton outfits. Although her role isn’t all that big, she breathes life into Sweety and makes her much more than just the pregnant girlfriend. I really like her character here despite her rather impulsive decisions.

The two main villains are more than just the usual requisite thugs and have plenty of personality. Even their underlings have some back-story and while this is mostly a good thing, at times it does become a little too unwieldy and starts to crowd into the main plot. Amole Gupte almost steals the show as ‘Chopper’ Bhope as he fits his larger than life role of the gangster turned politician perfectly. Tashi (Tenzing Nima), the gangster looking for Charlie, is more sophisticated but while less overtly menacing his callous treatment of his allies makes him just as frightening. The various other gang members and police, corrupt and otherwise, are all just as well drawn and fit into the story development well.

Perhaps the only downside to the story is that there is very little opportunity for Shahid to dance, but his performance more than makes up for that omission. The music (written by Vishal Bhardwaj with lyrics by Gulzar) is generally of high quality and as expected from a director with Vishal’s background, the songs are well integrated into the story without disrupting the narrative flow. In fact most of the time they carry the film forward and further develop the characters. Dhan Te Dhan for example does a great job of capturing the frenzy and manic energy of Mikhail along with Charlie’s exuberance of realising he may actually achieve his dream.

There is one issue with the film which I noticed much more watching on DVD rather than in the cinema. Although Tassaduq Hussain gets a very edgy feel with his camera work, the whole film is very dark and there are times when it’s hard to see the action clearly. It’s not helped by the fact that many of the outdoor scenes are filmed in what appears to be torrential rain which adds to the rather gloomy feel the low light levels induce. It also makes it very hard to screen-cap! And while I love the film climax, I don’t really like the final ending of the film which seems a little too pat with everything neatly tied up with a big shiny bow to finish. Maybe it’s my exposure to Tamil films but I don’t need everything to be happy ever after to make a good ending.

Vishal Bhardwaj is a good story teller who gets the most out of his actors and with Kaminey I think he succeeds in both those aspects very well. It’s fun and full of fast-paced dialogue and action plus fantastic performances from the whole cast.  An entertaining watch that’s a different take on the double role plot device for Bollywood. 4 ½ stars.

Temple says

Shahid does a great job in a complex dual role. When the brothers are together even subtle details like a tautness to facial muscles, posture, degree of neckline plunge or the angle of his head are enough to tell you which twin you’re looking at.  Sweety is an interesting character, and that complexity was in the writing as well as derived from Priyanka’s strong performance. Sweety is a manipulative, aggressive and entitled young woman who physically defends Guddu from attack and takes over decision making in a crisis. In short, she is like many a filmi hero. As she and her brother face off it clicked for me that she had been raised almost as his younger brother, and he was a role model for her when it came to manipulating and deceiving people. I appreciated Priyanka toning down the glam (except her too perfect manicure), and giving Sweety a harder edge. For a while I suspected Sweety of deliberately getting pregnant, and even wondered if Guddu was really the father. But I did believe she and Guddu were genuinely fond of each despite the lies. They were well aware of each other’s flaws and talked about the things that upset them so I think it was a fairly mature relationship and I wasn’t surprised they stuck together. Even in Raat Ke Dhai Baje there are glimpses of how their relationship works – he resists all change while she jumps into planning and implementation, but he lights up at her smile and enthusiasm.

The direction is accomplished and all of the music worked perfectly. I liked the way vintage filmi songs were used too. There was a lot of effort given to establishing the world Kaminey is set in, especially the contrast between the shadowy Charlie and the clean cut Guddu. There are lots of opposites and tensions, and the visual language really enhances the scripted drama. Charlie’s dream sequences were annoying on a re-watch but they do explain his character. Things run at a cracking pace, and kept me wondering how it would all tie together. The ending felt not entirely necessary, but it did show off an excellent hat and allow for one final lisp joke. I like Kaminey a lot but it doesn’t have quite the same impact on a repeat viewing when the suspense is diminished. But the strength of the script is evident in complex characters and some sharp dialogues. See it for excellent performances by Shahid and Priyanka, and for a stylish modern take on cops & gangsters. 4 stars!

Ishqiya (2010)

Ishqiya has a top cast and with the writing and directing team of Abhishek Chaubey and Vishal Bharadwaj, the story and script are top quality as well. This is Abhishek Chaubey’s first directorial venture although he worked with Vishal Bharadwaj on a number of his films as assistant, most recently Kaminey and Omkara. The screenplay here shows many of the same elegantly clever twists and turns, and there is plenty of snappy action. All of the actors make the most of their roles with some excellent performances, and it all adds up to a great film.

The film tells the story of two thieves, Khalujaan and Babban who are on the run after stealing from their boss Mushtaq. Khalujaan and Babban are uncle and nephew, and there is the added complication that Mushtaq is Khalujaan’s brother in law.  Khalujaan tries to rely on this connection to escape Mushtaq’s murderous plans for revenge but it seems that just being family isn’t enough – not when you’ve stolen from Mushtaq at any rate. After being caught by Mushtaq and his merry band of thugs near the start of the film, the pair manage to escape by means of some witty repartee and good team work. There is an interesting subtitle error here. I am quite sure that Mushtaq says kutta and really does mean ‘dog’, although possibly bog makes just as much sense.

Since they can’t find anyone willing to risk the wrath of Mushtaq and take them in, they end up planning an escape toNepal. When they end up at the border town of Gorakhpur, they decide to seek help from an old accomplice Vidyadhar Verma. However on arriving at Verma’s house, they find out that he has been killed in a tragic accident, and end up dealing with his widow Krishna instead. This creates an interesting dynamic as Krishna plays the two men against each other while she plots to use them for her own ends. Meanwhile Mushtaq turns up yet again, and in a final attempt to get enough money to pay for their freedom, Khalujaan and Babban join forces withKrishnato kidnap a local business tycoon. They plan to use the ransom money to pay off Mushtaq, but Krishna has other ideas and their kidnapping ends up with some unexpected results.

The film opens with Krishna and her husband at home and in bed as he teases and cajoles her while she tries to get him to surrender to the police. Although the couple have been kept apart by Verma’s kidnapping schemes they seem to be very much in love and Krishna obviously misses her husband while he is away on his various criminal activities. Abhishek Chaubey has cleverly drawn Krishna and Verma’s relationship in detail in just a few minutes in these opening scenes and this attention to detail in the characterisation is carried out throughout the film. For example, when we first meet Khalujaan and Babban they are celebrating their escape from Mushtaq with the loot, and just from the way they are dressed and the way they dance and celebrate, we have a lot of information about their respective characters.

The more sensible and level-headed of the two is Khalujaan, ably played by Naseeruddin Shah. He’s older, although not necessarily wiser, especially if he has had a bit too much to drink. Despite his criminal tendencies he is a romantic at heart and on meeting Krishna he praises her singing, helps her with the cooking and indulges in idealistic fantasies of the two of them together. After their first meeting he has a good look at himself in the mirror and realising that he looks his age, resorts to using some of Krishna’s kohl to darken his hair and beard to make himself look more attractive to her. It’s all so very human and natural and is just one of the ways that Abhishek Chaubey brings his characters to life. Khalujaan is also more focused on the goal of getting away with the loot, while Babban (Arshad Warsi) votes for killing Mushtaq and getting on with spending the money and enjoying life.

As Khalujaan romances Krishna from afar, Babban eyes her speculatively from almost their first meeting. He’s much more direct and it’s very telling that his first visit in Gorakhpur is the brothel. He is all male, hot-blooded and very ready and willing for action. Despite knowing that his uncle has fallen in love with Krishna, he makes a play for her too. However, even with his ‘love them and leave them’ attitude he ends up under her spell, and falls in love for probably the first time in his life. His betrayal by Krishna seems to cut much deeper than with his uncle, perhaps because this is his first love.

With his kohl rimmed eyes and knowing looks Arshad Warsi revels in the character of Babban. To some extent he revisits a little of his lovable rogue character of Circuit from the Munna Bhai series, but Babban is much more cynical and a harder persona. He has no qualms about accusing Krishna of stealing their money, or using violence to force her to reveal her plans later on. But at the same time his heartbreak when he realises he has been betrayed is very real and he genuinely seems to take an interest in Nandu (Alok Kumar), a local boy he meets at Krishna’s house.

The two men are very easily seduced and led by the enigmatic Krishna. Vidya Balan does an excellent job of portraying Krishna as a woman of many faces. She starts off as the woman in love but with her husband’s death she seems to change and becomes aloof and mysterious, at least until she meets up with Khalujaan and Babban and seems to come to life again. She knows exactly what she wants and how to achieve it, and will allow nothing to stop her reaching her goal.Krishna is a very strong female character, even if she does turn a little crazy and vengeful at the end, and it’s great to see Vidya Balan in a role which suits her skills as an actress. She doesn’t have too much dialogue and in many scenes conveys most of her emotions through her expressions alone, which she does very well.

The interactions between the three leads are the crux of the film, but the other characters all have their place. Salman Shahid is coldly efficient as the omnipresent Mushtaq who has the knack of turning up at the right place every time. Rajesh Sharma as businessman Kamalkant Kakkad and Gauri Malla as his mistress Mamta have some comedic scenes together, particularly when Babban and Krishna first see them indulging in a little role playing to the wonderful Aa Jaane Jaan from Intaquam. (Another film about a woman out for revenge and Mamta nods to the Helen connection with all those feathers.)

There are some beautifully shot scenes of village life in the film and the cinematography by Mohana Krishna Agapu makes the most of the local countryside. While there aren’t any big song and dance numbers, the songs by Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar are excellent and fit well into the film. As well as the film soundtrack, Babban has a tendency to burst into song when he’s happy, and there are some fun renditions of songs from Chak De India and Om Shanti Om. There are so many great moments in this film, both comedic and some very good drama as well. With all the twists and turns the film never drags and Abhishek Chaubey even manages to add in a couple of explosions to add to the mayhem. A very well made film with excellent performances from the three leads – I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel. 4 ½ stars.