It is not just the two letters ‘H’ and ‘A’ that are common between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Vishal Bhardwaj‘s much-talked about film ‘Haider’ nor is the fact that the famous lines ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark‘ is equally applicable to the state of Kashmir. Haider deals with the problems of terrorism in the troubled state but I personally did not go to watch the film for that.
Being a student of literature (and,with Shakespeare one always remains a student), I wanted to see how my Hindu college alumni Vishal Bhardwaj has taken the liberty of taking Shahid Kapoor to essay the role of one of the most complex characters of literature, Hamlet.
I must confess I came back a convert. Not that terrorism has not been dealt with earlier in Hindi cinema and even better than what Vishal has done. It is the central theme of the film the ‘Oedipus complex‘ ( the forbidden love between a mother and a son) that bind together the play and the film.
‘Oedipus’ to the uninitiated was introduced in literature by the ancient playwright Sophocles when he wrote the Oedipus Tyrranus a story of a tragic hero who is forced to sleep with his mother through a set of circumstances that was unknown to him and out of his control.
But ‘Oedipus Complex’ was used for the first time for Hamlet in 1910 when Ernest Jones, a contemporary of Freud came out with his theory in the American Journal of Psychology. He argues that even though Claudius , the usurper of the throne of Denmark by killing King Hamlet his son Prince Hamlet was prevaricating in taking revenge because secretly he wanted no one between him and his mother Gertrude. At the same time Hamlet was jealous of Claudius for marrying Gertrude. His various soliloquies in the play support this.
Shocking as it may appear, many critics have taken this line seriously and have written thesis on this subject.
Vishal Bhardwaj has been bold enough to take up this theme in India, something unprecedented in Bollywood.
His first reaction as he returns home and watches his uncle Kay Kay dancing and singing to please his Bhabhji says it all. Haider does not mince words and reacts immediately accusing his mother of betraying his late father.
The various flashbacks show how as a child, he was obsessed with the beauty of his mother when she sat before a mirror.
There’s no mistaking this thread through the film. There is a war going on between the terrorists and the militia and Vishal has been accused of siding with the terrorists by lobbyists. But they forget that the film ends with the note ‘Inteqam se sirf Inteqam milta hai. Inteqam is bahar nikloge tabhi Azadi milegi.’
And the fact that Haider throws away his gun even when his arch enemy his uncle is lying injured and unarmed before him in the last scene proves that Vishal is with the pacifists.
But that, as I said, is not the main focus of the film. The most engrossing parts of the film are those between The mother played so sincerely by Tabu, and Shahid.
When Tabu marries K K Menon, her son Shahid stages a play which shows the entire audience how the two had betrayed his father, he decides to take his revenge.
In an honest conversation both of them talk about their childhood days and she asks him” Do you remember you did not like even your father to touch me and slept between the two of us at night” to which replies ” Yes and just imagine how I will tolerate his brother touching you? Why did you remarry so soon after his death.”
And even if there is some ambiguity, it is the stand of Gertrude in Hamlet, there is an honest admission about the secret desires of Tabu who has to pretend to be the silent suffering mother. In the Kashmir of Vishal Bhardwaj the wives of ten missing citizens are called Half widows till the time their bodies are discovered. In a scene Tabu’s face is blowing with joy as she tells K K once his body is discovered, I will become a full widow and them we can marry. It is another kind of Azadi for her and several like her in the troubled valley.
And just as Ophelia in Hamlet has no place in his life, in ‘Haider’ the lovely and refreshing Shradha Kapoor has no place in the scheme of things.
The protagonist is occupied only with an obsession for his lovely mother, till she finally blows herself off, because she cannot convince her son to return to normalcy and accept her marriage.
By: Amitabh Srivastava
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