Skip to main content

Haider and The Common Man : A Reading of Vishal Bhardwaj's Film in Arthur Miller's Light

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.

Shahid Kapoor as Haider Meer in Haider

Popular posts from this blog

Inception and The Dream of Descartes

The Matrix has always been hailed as one the most accurate celluloid adaptation of the “Dream Argument” of Descartes, but people mostly overlook the Cartesian parallels in Nolan's Inception (2010). Nolan is a storyteller. He engrosses us so much with the plot at hand that the audience forgets to engage with the philosophy of the film while enjoying the film. It was only later, after I finished watching the film that I began to understand how Descartes might have influenced Nolan's philosophy. The film begins in a dream and slowly rises up to the level of reality on-board the Shinkansen in Japan. The constant nagging target of the film is the reality in which the film is set. An idea is the most resilient virus – the notion on which the whole plot rests. When I first read Descartes, the keyword for me was 'doubt', when doubt sticks in our mind, it becomes “impossible to eradicate”, because doubt is an idea in itself. His notions about what could be called into doubt qu…

Political Allegory in Neil Gaiman's Wolves in the Walls

Rarely one has the chance to encounter a literary work that encapsulates the true meaning of the text in the narratives of a child as is the case with Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls. It is impossible to point out a definitive single source or point of origin for the text but, as with Gaiman, an expert literary archaeologist, he draws inspirations from various works of literature and narrative techniques. The predominant emotion of the text is paranoia. It is probably one of the few texts in children's literature which deals with the concept of madness. Here, one might think Charlotte Perkins Gilman's text The Yellow Wallpaper as a possible source text for Gaiman's work. In Gilman's text, the protagonist imagines the someone creeps behind the pattern of the wallpaper, similar to Lucy's imagination of wolves living behind the wall. The wall in the story is used as a smokescreen or a curtain that shields or hides the functionings and the machinations of …