Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.

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Gone Girl – A Review

David Fincher – the dark master of modern cinema directs Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a story about a beautiful and talented wife who goes missing on the day of her fifth anniversary.  David Fincher has one of the most impressive filmography in Hollywood today and among those are stand outs like the Oscar darlings,  The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and also there are dark messed up masterpieces such as Zodiac and Se7en. File Gone Girl under the Dark messed up masterpieces because what Fincher has achieved in this film based on a screenplay written by the novelist Gillian Flynn, adapted from her own original novel is nothing short of mind-bending madness.

Gone Girl

The story kicks off with a forlorn looking Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne driving into a bar he co-owns with his sister to crib over the disintegration of his marriage when he gets a phone call from a neighbor about his cat straying outside the home. Nick drives back home to what appears to be a crime scene with his wife Amy Dunne played by the enchanting Rosamund Pike nowhere to be found.  What unfolds is a meticulous crime drama that very few are adept at dealing with as Fincher does. With the same restraint he showed with Zodiac, Fincher creates an atmosphere of eerie silence and awkward moments that has you drawn in from the minute Affleck picks up that cat and brings it home.  I wish I could discuss more of the plot of the movie but that would be a massive disservice to those who are yet to see the movie. Suffice to say you will not be prepared for this if you are only going in on Fincher’s credentials and just the trailers. Speaking of trailers, Fincher is not only the master of crafting a beautiful film he is also the master of suspense and the art of smoke and daggers. The trailers only serve to enhance the experience of the movie and the sense of unease that unfolds over the course of its entire length.

Rosamund Pike as the fragile and scared wife and more is brilliant and unnerving, Ben Affleck as the loving husband is just as convincing as he grinning awkwardly in front of his missing wife’s poster. I have always regarded Affleck as a better director than actor but with Gone Girl he proves he is one fine actor as well. Tyler Perry who claims never to have heard of David Fincher is also cast perfectly as Tanner Bolt – the patron saint of the wife killers. Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin Margo and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Dessie Collins are also brilliant in their roles. Special mention to Kim Dickens who as the southern Detective Rhonda Boney with sass provides the movie’s lighter moments.

Trent Raznor and Atticus Rose once again score Fincher’s Gone Girl after their successful collaboration on the social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is something special about this partnership as Raznor and Rose are somehow able to create an atmospheric sound track that perfectly complements Fincher’s quiet and meticulous story telling.  There are no booming sounds or soaring sonatas but just the subtlest of undertones of sound to draw you in even more as Fincher’s characters slowly mumble their way through the story. The experience is all encompassing.

This is a movie that will stay with you for long after you have left the cinema hall, it will still play on your mind even after you feel you have unburdened it by dropping several hundred F-bombs while marveling at what a twisted genius Fincher really is. There will be awkward laughs that will escape you but at the same time it will make you question yourself. This is a movie that will not let you be comfortable – neither while you are watching it nor after the end credits roll. From the opening scene to the scene that closes the movie with the same dialogue the journey that you will be on will be one that you are unlikely to experience again this year or for several years to come. Fincher has the unique ability to mess with his audiences’ minds and get under their skin, he draws you in and toys with your emotions and as if some cliché of a Stockholm syndrome you do not want him to stop doing it to you. This is a master class in how to do a thriller right.

Bang Bang – A Review

Siddharth Anand directs Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang the official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. Bang Bang also serves as a reminder that two phenomenally beautiful people in stunning locations do not an interesting movie make.

Siddharth Anand director of such cinematic gems as Ta Ra Rum Pum and Salam Namaste proves yet again that he is the master of the art of insipidity. The movie jerk starts with a scene straight out of Karma where Dr Michael Dang is captured and put in a jail cell and a righteous police inspector comes in and lands a tight one on the left cheek. I almost expected Danny Denzogpa to mouth “is thappad ki goonj ki goonj…”

Katrina (who must really have killed off her stylist’s cat for her to hate her so much) plays Harleen Sahani a Bank receptionist who has the ability to take and transfer calls on a retro phone, who sits and types while staring at a screensaver of Santorini and who either talks to herself or to a grandmother who has no sense of personal space. She gets swept away by international criminal Rajveer played by the brand ambassador for Mustard Oil Hrithik Roshan.

Harleen and Rajveer are under attack from goons of Danny and Javed Jaffery and the agents of ISS officers Pawan Malhotra and Vikram Gokhale. Where do I even begin with ISS – they are supposed to be India’s CIA/MI6 and they can’t even issue legitimate looking badges. And Sujoy Ghosh, who scripted Kahaani – in my opinion India’s best thriller, makes the most obvious of blunders. The whole plot and premise of the extradition treaty is willy nilly forgotten and everyone just goes about shooting everyone while Katrina sleeps.

Of the actors there is really no saving grace for any of them. Katrina who usually carries off the ditzy blonde roles off with élan is unbearable and thanks to her stylist is almost unbearable to look at as well except in a few shots in meherbaan. Hrithik with his charm offensive criminal with a heart of gold isn’t half bad but is saddled with a script that has him playing more kanaiya than krrish. Pawan Malhotra tries to pull a Nawazuddin Siddiqui and end s up looking more like ACP pradyuman.  Deepti Naval proves that the bills won’t pay themselves and that even legends like her have to play the grieving mother. Danny Denzogpa and Javed Jaffery play the bad guys from what appears to be a bad parody of every bad guy ever depicted in Bollywood.

Plotholes aside it would have at least been bearable if there was enough adrenaline pumping action to keep one entertained. There is so much talking going on and most of it courtesy Katrina Kaif and her confusion at being caught up in all this mess that I did pray that Hrithik has more of those tranquilizer shots to sedate her. And whatever little action there is is ruined by the overpowering music which can only be described as the illegitimate child of Hans Zimmer’s score for the dark knight and Martin Garrix electronic dance music. Vishal and Shekhar who are able to turn in at least one memorable track per outing seem to struggle massively with an entirely forgettable soundtrack.  The camera work is also shoddy with the action sequences being shot in a way that you don’t see any real action being captured and some of the tracking shots actually lacking in focus which results in hazy pan shots. The big reveal? its actually quite obvious 20 minutes into the movie and you need to be as dimwitted as Harleen to have to sit through the entire movie to be amazed by it. It is trademark Sujoy Ghosh if you know what I mean.

As if it weren’t enough that we are stuck with uninspired writing, directing and acting that we are given the wonderful gift of blatant product placement. I counted 10 – Johnson Tiles, Hokey Pokey, Samsung, Philips, Pizza Hut, Ray Ban, The Q Shop, Volvo, Mountain Dew & Macroman.

The intensity of Bang Bang’s stupidity is only matched by the vigorousness of its insipidity. Stay as far away from this movie as possible and watch any old Tom Cruise movie instead if action is what you crave and don’t mind a bit of plot thrown in for good measure.