There can be little doubt in the fact the Vishal Bhardwaj has established himself in the last few years as one of the foremost imaginative and nuanced film-maker in India. Much of his success can be attributed to his adaptations of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. The Indian-ness of Mr Bhardwaj's adaptations is what makes the movies so critically and commercially successful in the Indian milieu. This points to the fact that something is universal with Shakespeare's tragedies and with tragedies in general.
Shakespeare's works had been adapted in India, in various local dialects since the early days of colonisation. It was the encounter with Shakespeare's work that led us to re-discover the great tragedies of the Indian Classical Era, in an attempt to evaluate Indian literature and to note the structuralist similarities of Indian and European literature.
But the effect of tragedy lies in the fall of the protagonist due to some tragic flaw (hamartia). Due to its elevated style, tragedy (specifically Shakespearean tragedy) demands that the characters in the play be of high social stature so that their downfall has the intended dramatic effect in the mind of the audience.
Arthur Miller, the American playwright, in his essay 'Tragedy and the Common Man' argued that the common man is as much qualified to be a tragic protagonist as someone from higher social order. In this regard, let us consider the movie Haider, how Vishal Bhardwaj successfully transplants the elevated royal plot to a common Kashmiri family, yet retains much of the classical succulent tragedy of Shakespeare.
We are shown glimpses of the happy family of Dr Hilaal Meer; much of the film concerns itself with how the happy family fell apart in the troubling times of militancy in Kashmir. As the saying goes "nature abhors a vacuum", so is the case in Haider's own family. Haider's uncle, Khurram Meer didn't waste any time in taking control of the family and the state of Kashmir after the 'disappearance' of his elder brother, Dr Hilaal Meer. As Arthur Miller notes in his essay, "I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggles that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society". Haider too suffers the struggle. He perceives that Khurram has, by foul play, gained what was rightfully his – the share of love of his mother and robbed him of fatherly love. Herein Bhardwaj brings the famous/infamous Oedipus complex of Hamlet. Khurram's marriage with Ghazala Meer sets a chain of events which leads to the ultimate tragic end. The indecisive Haider becomes tenaciously bent on his mission of revenge.
The film also becomes an analogy for the state of Kashmir itself. The rightful status of the state, which has been denied.
The film does not have the exalted narrative framework of Hamlet and therein lies its quotidian appeal. In Hamlet, the audience may experience a disconnect with characters.
In Haider, the protagonist goes through similar experiences as the common people of Kashmir.
The character Haider forms just a single piece of the multiple fragmented narratives of the common people of Kashmir during the early 80s till the mid-90s. It is only by chance that the film focuses on this particular character of Haider, otherwise, his experiences are identical to those of any Kashmiri youth of that era. Bhardwaj's mastery to focus on the tragic in the everyday life of a certain youth proves that common man can also be worthy subjects of tragedy as much as exalted stories of Gods and Kings. Having said that, the film is still bound within the confines of time and place. The story is less likely to be successfully transplanted to a different setting and era with the same tragic effects.