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The Prince of Denmark & the Insurgent of Kashmir

“I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”

~Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

Most Shakespearean tragedies follow certain sets of patterns and elements. These include vengeful ghosts, scenes where characters lose sense, a play within a play, gory scenes, and above all the fact that the protagonist has an egregious grouse against an alarming and usually powerful opponent. Hamlet is a perfect example of Shakespeare’s modus operandi. Building on the genius of Shakespeare’s writing, director Vishal Bhardwaj has productively tailored a Shakespearian tragedy into a Hindi movie pursuing all the traditional essentials and the brass tacks of the Kashmir conflict in the history of Indian cinema. 

Small moments reveal the reality of Kashmir in simple ways but communicate an entire history of the people in an efficient and heart-wrenching manner. Haider is one of the few films that did justice to the setting of Kashmir as opposed to fetishizing it and actually managed to retain the essence of Hamlet.

Source – www.filmcompanion.in

Using Haider as a medium, Bhardwaj has attempted to Indianize Hamlet and make it more relatable to the Indian public. At the end of the day, he has attempted to eliminate all hints of unfamiliarity by changing the title of the play, names of individuals and places, and supplanting all references to western traditions or conduct with fitting social partners.

Accordingly, Haider is a sort of adaptation that makes its original work well-suited in a new setting. It has been indicated multiple times in the movie that the rationale behind talking about India’s conflicts in the state of Kashmir through an English drama is that what occurs in Kashmir is a misfortune, however, nobody is discussing it and once one discusses it, they feel liberated. Discussing it resembles a balm on an injury.

While both the book and the movie are based on very different periods, it doesn’t take long to deduce who plays what character in the movie from the book. The small nuances and quirks of the characters remain the same. The only difference is witnessed in the character of Gertrude. In the Shakespearean universe, Gertrude always seemed rather blank. On the other hand, Ghazala in Haider is presented as a conflicted character. She is a devoted wife to her husband but she is also attracted to her brother-in-law Khurram and spends much of her time worrying about her son. 

She is a good person and wants to do the right thing for her family and this is perhaps the reason why she tells Khurram that his brother is operating on a militant who is suspected of being a spy. It was a wrong action but it was done for all the right reasons and resulted in a domino effect of events that ends in blood and tears.

Much like Hamlet, Haider takes the state’s politics and history and wraps it up in a very sensationalized cloak. No punches are pulled from the very first scene and you know you are going on a ride that is going to make you question your entire belief system. Another important element in the plot is the significance of the skull. In both Hamlet and Haider, the image of the skull is thematically important. As the protagonists speak to the skull, they probe into the philosophy of death. There are some major differences as the filmmakers have created new soliloquies and reconstructed some original ones to fight into the movie medium. The new soliloquies are made to convey Hamlet’s frenzy and the political analysis in it like when he discusses the Armed Forces Special Powers Act on a traffic circle with a frantic look on his face.

Source – www.shakespeare.org.uk

Hamlet’s lifelong companion, Horatio, and his love, Ophelia are combined in the movie to give us Haider’s closest companion Arshia. She is a columnist and assumes a functioning part in Haider’s life. Bharadwaj has made her into a lady of substance. Abstaining from the nunnery scene, however, brought down the pathos of Arshia’s suicide even as the disentangling red wool introduced a heart-breaking image of self-destruction that was yet to follow.

The next point of difference is observed at the end of the movie as Haider decides not to kill Khurram (Hamlet: King Claudius). A reason for the same might be that he sees his ideal self in Khurram. He is the man who has married his mother and killed his father, something Haider has always subconsciously wanted to do. The Oedipus complex as portrayed in the movies has been highlighted to a great extent, an extent that has shocked the Indian audience. There are also visible changes in the occurrence of the main events in an attempt to make the plot more linear in comparison with Hamlet.

Source – Indian Express

Bhardwaj’s Haider has modernized and domesticated Hamlet to talk about the social and political concerns of the Indian contemporary society; the reason may go back to Hamlet’s abstruseness, leading to it being a highly multidimensional work. As noticed previously, the adaptation is sometimes very similar to the original work, but sometimes is completely different. It would transform the original text whenever it met the director’s need but proved to be an appropriate way to talk about the social, religious, and political problems which Bhardwaj confronted in his contemporary society.

Written by- Aditi Dixit

Edited by- Sohini Roy

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