Haider, Hamlet, War and Common Man

To be or not to be…

Hamlet:  one of my favourite plays. I love the existential angst of the protagonist. The dilemma of a man, caught in a web, not of his making. The price someone, who is sensitive, intelligent, and ahead of his times, can end up paying for being in a role he doesn’t want to play. Trying to fulfil it to the best of his ability though his heart is not in it.

It was with much trepidation and excitement that I looked forward to watching Haider. What I like about classics are their eternal themes. Each successive generation can interpret it in its own way, and still stay true to the story. I love Vishal Bhardwaj’s body of work. The intelligence, creativity and boldness, evident his cinema. However, I was warned that this movie is brutal and violent. So I stayed away when it was released. Till it came on the cable (or whatever its called these days!)  After all I was studying literature, how could I miss it!

And I was not disappointed. I could never imagine how a politically sensitive issue could be handled so brilliantly. How this timeless story could come alive and be relevant even today. As I watched the closing credits, my mind wandered back a few years. It was 2003, my father was insisting on a pilgrimage to Amarnath, and though I am not much for temples and crowds, I couldn’t let him go alone. Thus, we found ourselves packing and preparing for the long trek. The only time I had visited Kashmir was as a toddler. My cousins lived in Srinagar. In later years their stories of brooks near homes and apple orchards, would leave me envious and in awe, that a place could be that beautiful. Over the years Kashmir was destroyed by a war which not only seems unending but makes me wonder if the people fighting it, and making sure it never gets over, even remember why it started!

Going back to 2003, our plane landed in Srinagar. I can never forget my first impression. The clean pristine air, the beautiful mountains, and the slight chill. It all reminded me of nothing less than London! Where I had travelled as a 19 year old. So this was Kashmir, the beauty left me stunned. I remember thinking how can people be turning this heaven into hell? Alternatively, so this is why all the quarrel. I can write a whole story of how the trip went: of the hospitality, the amazing food, the almost orchards, the empty homes, the villages, the half open shops, the weather, the desolation and the security. However, what haunts me the most were the common people. All protecting us, guiding us, telling us, “see our lives are almost over, the livelihood gone. When you go back to Delhi please tell people, we would love to have them visit here. It will be fine. We want tourism to be back. Please tell them it is not so bad.” Yes, that year terrible things did happen. But as I read the rolling credits of Haider and the line, “tourism is back and the crew didn’t face anything”. My mind couldn’t help wander back in time.

This is where I thought lay the beauty of the movie. Yes, there are ideologies, yes war is on, yes there are real challenges. But in the middle of all this who suffers? It is the common people. The mothers who lose sons. The wives who lose husbands. The families that are torn apart. As I look at conflicts across the world. I cannot believe that the story would be any different. I wonder that if the trees and mountains could talk, what would they say? They would speculate “what is with this human race? Why do they do this to each other?” Yes survival of the fittest, but they are an overkill.”

What is the purpose of war: religion? ideology? territory? politics? economics? crime? In the end Haider ended differently than Hamlet. But it proved its point: Revenge begets revenge. And raised a pertinent question: when will this cycle of hatred and subjugation end? Yes there is no ideal world or man (for that matter woman!), but I refuse to believe that the highest potential a human can show is nothing but murder.


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