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Bollywood recreates Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' amidst the Kashmir conflict


Bollywood Hamlet set in Kashmir likely to cause controversy in India
Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider includes graphic scenes of torture in Indian army camps

Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider turns the Prince of Denmark into a philosophy student from Kashmir.
Ophelia is a young journalist, Polonius a sinister policeman and Laertes works for a multinational. The climactic duel is a firefight in a snowy graveyard, and the famous "play within a play" features rows of synchronised dancers and much singing. Welcome to Haider, a Bollywood version of Hamlet set for a controversial, much anticipated release this autumn.

The film is the work of the local director Vishal Bhardwaj, whose vision of Macbeth as an Indian gang boss won international critical praise. His latest Shakespearian adaptation turns the Prince of Denmark into a philosophy student from Kashmir, the former Himalayan princedom, who returns home from university after hearing that his doctor father has disappeared and his mother is in a new relationship.

"Shakespeare is the most dramatic writer for hundreds of years. His stories of conflicts are relevant today and relevant everywhere," said Bhardwaj, 48, who has also directed an adaptation of Othello.

The film stars some of India's biggest names, including Irrfan Khan, who played a policeman in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, and Tabu, known internationally for her role in The Life of Pi.

It is likely to be controversial however. Set during the 1990s, the most intense years of the ongoing insurgency which has pitted Kashmiri militants and separatists against security forces and their local auxiliaries for more than two decades, Haider includes graphic scenes of torture in Indian army camps and other human rights abuses by Indian officials. The father of Hamlet, or Haider, turns out to have been killed by paramilitaries recruited by the Indian authorities and run by his uncle. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are local men who are paid informants for police intelligence.

Violence in Kashmir, disputed by India and Pakistan since the two countries won their independence from Britain in 1947, has ebbed in recent years, but extreme sensitivities remain in India about the conflict and its history.

"What happened in Kashmir is a very human tragedy, but no one is talking about it. But once you talk of it, you are released from it. What I am saying is the truth. It should be like a balm on a wound," said Bhardwaj.

The film will have to pass India's government censors and could prompt a backlash from rightwing organisations which have previously targeted artists whose work they say is unpatriotic.

The adaptation has been written by Basharat Peer, a Kashmir-born author and journalist. Hamlet's famous soliloquies have had to be largely omitted, but the most famous scenes remain. Haider asks "to be or not to be" as he points a handgun to his own head, and as a Muslim decides not to kill his uncle while he is kneeling in prayer, rather than before an altar.

Peer said he hoped the film would challenge the narrative constructed by previous mainstream cinema about the Kashmir conflict and give an alternative point of view.

"Kashmiris have always been portrayed as crazy fanatics or Kashmir simply seen as a picturesque tourist destination. This is a very different view," he said.

Bollywood directors have frequently turned to Shakespeare for inspiration. One recent blockbuster was based on Romeo and Juliet, and another on A Midsummer Night's Dream. The classic 1982 film Angoor adapted A Comedy Of Errors.

The contemporary interest in Shakespeare in India is part of a long tradition reaching back to the 19th century, when popular theatre troupes performed his plays, said Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian cultures and cinema at the University of London. Film-makers also adapted his work during the colonial period of British rule.

"The more realistic films [such as the new Hamlet adaptation] with more narrative appeal more to the Indian elite and a lot of them will have read Shakespeare. The tragedies particularly are about people facing these very big, very universal dilemmas and that speaks to everyone," Dwyer said.

Adapting a play set in Denmark and written by an English playwright four centuries ago to contemporary India was not easy, Peer said.

"There were lots of difficulties. You can't just transpose a play. You have to do it justice, but also do justice to the context," he said.

Social as well as political subjects in the play, and the film, may raise eyebrows, particularly the relationship between Gertrude and her son, played by rising star Shahid Kapoor.

"Coming back to Oedipus the characters of Shahid and Tabu will be having a very complex sexual relationship. Giving this situation, it will be interesting to see how the audience react to this kind of a relationship on-screen," said the Deccan Chronicle, a regional Indian newspaper.

Lord High Filmquisitor
This looks amazing! I'm definitely going to have to keep my eye out for this one.

Filmquisition: Raking Modern Entertainment Over the Coals Daily New Articles Contributed Every Friday
Arcanis' 100 Favorite Films: 2015 Edition

My review---

Note---This review was written by me for Indians for an Indian forum , so the recommendation to not see the film in the review is for Indians only .

Liberals rule the roost in Bollywood . And their version of liberalism nowadays consists of portraying the very forces that defend the Indian state and on whom the state depends for survival ( like the armed forces for instance ) as villains .

In other countries such a portrayal of the forces that defend the nation as villains would have been instantly clamped down upon . For if such a portrayal is done repeatedly , then the morale of the armed forces would go down ; they would feel let down by their own people and would not be enthusiastic about defending the country anymore .

But in India anything goes....India is a 'anything goes' country where there is no respect for the armed forces and any expression of nationalism is frowned upon by the intellectual classes . An atmosphere of vegetarianism has made Indians weak and effeminate and ready to get themselves trampled upon by anyone who has the chutzpah to do so .

The movie 'Haider' is the product of such an environment . People who are in open rebellion against India in Kashmir are openly shown as heroes in the film . People who are defending the interests of the Indian state ( like Kashmiris who are on India's side ) are shown as villains . People who are against Indian rule in Kashmir fight 'heroically' against all the odds ; they are eulogized as martyrs dying for a just cause . But people who defend India die dog's deaths .

....And the amazing fact is that the censors have passed the film with several cuts ; but they have not had the guts to ban the film entirely .
How could they ?? If they banned the whole movie , then the entire liberal/secular lobby would be up in arms ; their version of freedom consists of allowing anti national forces to voice their dissent and clamp down upon any attempt by any Indian to act tough .

And the even more amazing fact is that there is not a murmur of protest from the common man . Vegetarianism and the pacifism that goes with it have struck such deep roots in our society that it has drained our vitals of any reserves of manliness ; we allow the so called 'liberals' to take charge of our pathetic lives....

There are so many anti national moments in the film that I won't bother to enumerate them . Searching on the internet for these anti national moments in the film yielded results ; I found what I was searching for on 'Deshgujarat' website .

The following is a copy/paste from 'Deshgujarat' website---


-The film is anti-national.
-The film is against Armed Forces Special Power Act. The film is against India and Pakistan both. The film favors freedom of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan. The film also gives message that while freedom of Kashmir is justified, the use of weapons to achieve freedom is not proper.
-The film portrays Indian Army as unwanted, flirt, human right offender, cruel.
-In one of the first scenes, Indian Army has been shown blowing a house in which militant is hiding and offering prayers.
-In another scene, Army man has been shown behaving loosely with Kashmiri woman reporter. It was kinda flirting.
-In one scene, Kashmir Police kill militants in custody in a house, and call press to impress Delhi. Pro-Indian Kashmir police man says, “these days even dead militant is worth 1 lakh.”
-In one scene, Army men are all set to cut private part of a militant suspect believed involved in killing of 20 persons in bomb blast case. Suspect is shouting that he is just a student and not militant.
-The hero kills three persons in this movie. Two of them are Kashmir police’s informer, and one is Kashmir police officer. All of them working for Indian Army. The Hero kills informers with big stones, and police man with bullet of pistol given to him by militants.
-In one scene, Hero Shahid Kapoor is standing in Lal Chowk of Srinagar and shouting: He says Kashmir wants freedom from both India and Pakistan on both sides of Line of Control.
-In one scene the film shows that Indian Army trained armed group kills terror suspects by throwing them in river from a bridge.
-In one scene in movie they show newspaper heading claiming ’8,000 Kashmiris still missing in Kashmir’.
-In one scene, Heroine Tabbtsum (Tabbu) says: Disappeared people’s wives are called half widows. They have to wait for their men or dead bodies of their men.
-In one scene, during a dialogue, the director deliberately shows ‘Go India Go Back’ slogan on a wall in background.
-One of the dialogue in film: Nehru had promised plebiscite in Lal Chowk, but that didn’t happen, the first condition of plebiscite was demilitarization, but that too didn’t happen.
-In one scene, they show a truck carrying dead bodies. In another scene ‘Association of Missing Kashmiri’ has been shown protesting against Indian Army. The Hero of the film is among them.
-In one scene, when Hero reaches military camp with photo copies of his missing father’s picture and inquire about him, an Army man has been shown throwing all the copies in air arrogantly.
-The Hero in one scene says: Entire Kashmir is a prison.
-The Hero compares Armed Forces Special Power Act(AFSPA) as Chutzpah. He says Chutzpah is Hibrew word.
-In one scene, a lawyer tells missing person’s relative that there has to be FIR in police to save missing person from disappearance.
-One of the dialogue in the film: In Kashmir, there’s God above and Army on the ground.
-In the song, they have placed a black dressed devil’s puppet inside the Sun temple in centre. This Sun temple was destroyed by Islamic invaders in the past. The devil puppet(Hindu Indian military?) in center of the gate of the temple has been shown throwing persons(Kashmiri Muslim) in river symbolically.
Indeed as the site says , the Indian army has been shown killing innocent Kashmiris and throwing their bodies in rivers . Generally it has been shown as not respectful of human rights and responsible for thousands of missing persons ( presumably all innocent but killed ) in the film . Indian rule is shown as a tyranny that all Kashmiris want to escape from .

The director is most probably a 'bleeding heart liberal' whose heart bleeds for those Kashmiris who are subject to regular checks at checkpoints by the Indian army . But the bleeding stops there....the director has no problems with those Kashmiris who resort to terrorism and violence against the state . One would be forgiven if one started believing that the movie was funded by Pakistan....

The story begins with a doctor surreptitiously taking a kashmiri terrorist who has been wounded into his house for treatment instead of handing him over to the army . His sympathies are obviously with the terrorists . But the army gets wind of this and the doctor is arrested while the terrorist is killed by the army by blowing up the doctor's house . Now why would the army act differently ?? The doctor is harboring a terrorist after all .

But no , later the director shows the person who informed the army as the villain . Or rather , it is the villain of the film who informed the army . So the director of the film wants to say that the act of informing the army about a terrorist is an act of villainy which only the villain of the film can do !! Does the director want to say that terrorists ought to be saved and those who inform about people harboring terrorists are bad people ?? Certainly I feel so....

The doctor's son Haider ( played by Shahid Kapoor ) comes back to see his mother openly cavorting with his uncle---and clearly romancing the uncle . Haider is filled with rage and hate . He makes his sympathies clear by calling the town of Anantnag as 'Islamabad' , which is the name given to it by Kashmiri terrorists . Of course , Islamabad is also the capital of Pakistan---so we are given a not to subtle hint of where his real sympathies lie....

The local Kashmiri police officer's daughter ( played by Shraddha Kapoor ) is in love with Haider , but this is opposed by he family who are sided with India . Is it for this perfidy ( of siding with India ) that the family has to die in the end in an orgy of violence ?? ---presumably that is what the director feels should happen to those Kashmiris who side with India in the Kashmir conflict .

A man affiliated with Pakistan backed terrorists ( played by Irfan Khan ) contacts Haider and informs him about his father and about the fact that father wants him to take revenge on his uncle ( played superbly by the redoubtable Kay Kay Menon ) who has been romancing his wife (Haider's mother) behind his back . And a gun is given to him to take revenge....

The uncle has a different story to tell---of Pakistan backed terrorists hatching a plan to make Haider angry and against India . Haider is in the midst of a dilemma as to whom to believe , but his eyes seem maddened by hate for his uncle . And he genuinely becomes a psycho for a while . This part ( of going mad ) is the part where Shahid has acted brilliantly and the film is at it's best .

So who's version of the story is true ??
What happened to Haider's father ??
What is the role of Haider's mother ( played by Tabu ) in all this ??

Watch the movie for the answers if you want to go against my advice...

As the movie moves towards the the climax , all those who sided with India are killed in brutal fashion . Again I have to ask---Is that what the director feels should happen to those who take India's side ??

The director does have solution for Kashmir's demand for Azadi----he feels it should be achieved with gandhian methods ( just like India achieved it from Britain ) rather than violence , for violence and revenge will lead only to more revenge and more killing....

Verdict---The movie is more like an art movie rather than commercial . Not entertaining .
But that is not reason why I asking you not to watch it . One film won't make much difference , but if more films like this are made then the morale of our armed forces will go down---they will feel backstabbed by the very people they are supposed to defend . If those people themselves support films which show Indian army in a bad light , then why should armed forces defend their lives ?? And if we flock to the theaters to watch such films and help the movie makers make more money then the movie makers will be tempted to make more such films . Don't go to see ' what is anti national in the film' . Not recommended .

Interesting. So Ashdoc are there many made films in India that are so anti establishment? Could you not conversely see India as being a strong country that is able to show controversial films without resorting to banning them?

Interesting. So Ashdoc are there many made films in India that are so anti establishment? Could you not conversely see India as being a strong country that is able to show controversial films without resorting to banning them?
yes , in fact most of the regular reviewers have given positive reviews of the film .

india is a working democracy where one can express views freely---many anti establishment films are made ; indeed many can be called anti hindu .

but i feel that this film promotes outright separatism of kashmir from india . it can fuel the flames of terrorism in kashmir ( we indians call them terrorists ; but one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter---especially if you are a pakistani ) by showing the indian army killing innocent kashmiris and dumping their bodies in rivers .

secondly , it does not show the plight of kashmir's hindu minority at all . that minority has been entirely driven out from kashmir by muslim militants ( read my review of the movie ' sheen ' in the bollywood movies thread to get an idea of the kashmiri hindus' plight ) abetted by pakistan , but the film shows only the militants' version of the truth---and the truth has both sides .

here is BBC's take on the film---

here is an indian hindu writer supporting the film---

one more article in support of the film---

here is an article against the film---

here is a discussion on indian defence forum . the defence experts are predictably howling against the film---

Thanks Ashdoc for linking to both sides of the controversy, when I can see which side you're on. It sounds like a film that should have a wider release. All institutions should be able to stand up to scrutiny tho don't you think? Even an Army and especially any undercover outside security organisations they use.