Haider's uncle kills his father and marries his mother. Can Haider resolve his dilemma - to be or not to be revengeful?
So, Haider is a brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet where a new character - Kashmir - joins the drama's kings and queens. Vishal Bhardwaj's Kashmir isn't shikaras and Shammi Kapoor though. Set in 1995, amidst militancy and martial rule, this Kashmir is gray smoke and brown trees, frozen waters and fires glowing angrily on a lake.
Dr. Hilal Meer, to his wife Ghazala's (Tabu) resentment, brings home a militant for treatment. Someone sneaks and the doctor's 'disappeared', leaving Ghazala 'half-widow' - and half-bride, Hilal's brother Khurram (Kay Kay) literally dancing attention on his beautiful bhabhi-jaan. As Ghazala giggles, her son Haider (Shahid) arrives and Hamlet - a young man driven to madness between grief for his father, anger for his uncle and a strange longing for his mother - begins.
But Bhardwaj's brilliance - don't miss Haider on 'chutzpah versus AFSPA', or his describing Kashmir between India and Pakistan with, 'Hum hain ki hum nahin?' - stretches beyond a beautiful re-telling. Vishal fires up his Hamlet by skillfully fusing personal anguish with political clash, where the violent dilemma of Kashmir - to free or not to free? - makes Haider even headier.
Haider is one of cinema's bravest takes on identity, frightening, yet fun - Irrfan delights as rockstar-like Roohdar, Haider's father's ghostly voice who is, in another clever twist, a spectral agent from Pakistan. Like Pankaj Kumar's stunning cinematography and Rekha Bhardwaj's haunting voice, Haider's actors excel - Shahid does justice to Hamlet, a quiet, fine-boned boy, descending into a man whose eyes gleam with hate. Shraddha's luminous as Arshee, Ophelia torn between Haider and father, heartbreakingly unwinding a red muffler she's just knit.
But the meat of Haider goes to Tabu, overpowering as gorgeous Ghazala, desirous of desire, blown away by guilt. Kay Kay excels as snake in the snow, craftily asking Arshee - 'Princuss! Prince kahan hai?' - an oily cog in the machine pinning Kashmir down. Haider's performances are perfumed with such delicious amorality that a moral twist follows - one that might've surprised Shakespeare.
Sometimes, Haider wanders - elaborate background music frames some scenes too richly while the second half could've been tighter. But these are tiny ripples on this filmi lake. For the most, Haider is superb, witty, violent, tragic - magic.
To see or not to see is no dilemma here. Don't miss Haider - he's got chutzpah like none other.