Haider: An Indian Hamlet by a Filmy Shakespeare

By Aneek Chaudhuri



Hamlet, a Shakespeare-an classic is the latest venture of Vishal Bharadwaj. In the recent past, he might not have taken anything on the theme of the master of Avon; hence, Haider has been quite convincing to appeal to both, the intellectuals and the bookworms. If one has to describe Hamlet, one would like to call it as a ‘Tragedy of Errors’. Here errors do not refer to unintentional sins, but the deliberate attempt to trust others, which fails to be complemented. Haider is made keeping in mind the problem of terrorism in Kashmir; although Denmark was a very peaceful country at the time of Hamlet, the disturbing rifts in Kashmir are parallel to the stressed heart & minds of Hamlet conditions.

Now, if we talk of Haider, it is smartly adapted for the screen, maintaining all the integrities of the characters used in Hamlet. It is worth noticing that Vishal Bharadwaj has effectively added Desi touch to the characters of Haider, although the classic essence is not so all lost. Now, let’s take a look at the characterization patterns of both, Hamlet and Haider.

King Hamlet: Narendra Jha / Irfan Khan (soul) as Dr. Meer / Roohdaar

Prince Hamlet: Shahid Kapur as Haider

Gertrude: Tabu as Ghazala Meer

Claudius: Kay Kay Menon as Khurram Meer

Laertes: A. Bashir as Liyaqat

Ophelia: Shraddha Kapur as Arshiya

Polonius: Lalit Parimu as Pervez Lone

Rosencrantz & Guildernstern: Sumit Kaul & Rajat Bhagat

Haider: Storyline

Haider is based in Jammu and Kashmir. And when the name of this state sounds, the first thing that comes to our mind is the issue of terrorism. The same has been depicted in Haider, although, in a manner that balances disturbed events with intra-familial concerns. Here King Hamlet is played by Narendra Jha as Dr. Meer. The scene opens up with him, being escorted by a narrow line of militants to their colony. As he reaches the destined patient, his ethics are put into test. Irrespective of the background of the patient, he calls in to treat him and shifts him to his own house. Tabu as Ghazala Meer, his wife is quite tensed about his decision and carries a dilemma, whether to stand by her husband. The nobility of the doctor was not to last for long, before he was arrested by the military for ‘sheltering a terrorist’. This eventually led to the bombing of Meer’s house. Everything was indeed shattered and Dr. Meer got disappeared with his subsequent detainment.

Shahid Kapur as Haider, returns to his native place, who had been pursuing his studies in Aligarh. Things were changed by then in Jammu & Kashmir; or we must say that a half-burnt piece of paper was again put into light. On his visit, he was detained by the military, due to their own ‘logical reasons’. Although, he could not be detained for long, as Shraddha Kapur as Arshiya, used her journalistic traits to get him rid. To proceed further, one must know that Arshiya was Haider’s love-interest. Love perhaps was quite decisive in the play of Hamlet, so in Haider.

Despite strong attempts by Pervez and Liyaqat (father and brother) to stop her, Arshiya was determined to be there by Haider and thus, expressed herself to be the combination of both, Horatio and Ophelia. After longing to view his mother, Haider came to know that his uncle, Khurram is now partnering her. However, reaching Khurram’s house had no relief for him and a pack of glimpses convinced him (spontaneously) that his mother and uncle had conspired to kill his father. They appeared to have a sound life, actually. Haider had no reason to stay there and decided to leave the house. To his opponents’ ease, he found his childhood mates, Salman and Salman and took refuge at their place. They were actually employed to spy on Haider’s activities by Pervez Lone (Arshiya’s father). Haider hardly cared about it (ignorantly) and started on a spree to locate his ‘disappeared father’. However, he failed successively.

A man named Roohadar was then the point of no return for the film. He came up with a message for Haider, representing himself as the doctor’s soul. Haider soon came to know that it was Khurram who was solely responsible for his father’s death. The message carried the request that Haider should avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle. He came up with an idea to act like a lunatic, in order to deceive his uncle’s eyes and beating him down to death. This takes the story to a tragic climax, which will be described in a later section in this paper.

Haider: Aesthetic Analysis

The section can be divided into two main categories:

  • Core interpretation
  • Music

Now, let’s take into account the first point i.e. core interpretation of Haider.

Core Interpretation

Haider is an adaptation of Hamlet in Indian context. Not only this, the serious concern of terrorism is also taken into account. Hence, one can easily justify the film to be a platter of interesting delicacies; however, the core interpretation of Haider is much deeper. Let’s summarize it into the following sub-sections:

  • Characterization
  • Interface with the third world


Characterization and Interface with the third world:


Mr. Jha has portrayed the character very well, especially in the scenes shot in the detention centers. There is a touch of serenity, calmness, and goodness in the character. This is quite the way King Hamlet can be depicted in a visual medium. His nature of accepting things as they are and his belief in the concept of Karma is not very promising.  On one hand, he says to Roohadar that he would like his son to avenge his ‘much possible death’ (at that time), on the other hand, he wants the almighty to decide his wife’s fate. Even if he believes his wife to be the ‘unintentional’ culprit, out of love or sympathy whatever it is, he urges God to decide her fate, but what made him feel that she had no intention of getting indulged in the illusionary affair with his brother? What made him admit his brother to have influenced his wife? He has been shown as the one who has accepted things; now, as he don’t want the love conferred upon his wife by him to be spoiled, he asks for his forgiveness (at least with a numb mind).

Tabu has fairly played the character as the wife of Dr. Meer. She is someone who is not very clean with her decisions. As per the depiction, Ghazala lacks the decision-making capability; much similar is the case with Gertrude in Hamlet, when she was a fickle lady, being involved in a dull conspiracy against her own husband, ‘unknowingly’.

Shradha Kapur as Arshiya is the true combination of Ophelia and Horatio of Hamlet. Acted as the true friend, as well as the tender beloved of Haider, she has done a candid job. There is not much to discuss about her, as she lets the story flow; Ophelia can be expressed as the feminine side of Prince Hamlet, at times, which dies off with Ophelia’s death. This enrages a masculine, estranged person within him, with an immature purpose of revenge. The feminine side of a person always makes him to act in a more sensitive and responsible manner; take her away and nothing remains than a skull of cluttered emotions.

The most intelligent employment is the characterization of Roohadar. Now, let’s go back to the Shakespeare classic, Hamlet. The scene opens up with the ghost of King Hamlet (then dead) visiting the palace with a message associated with his death; in Haider, the director has employed the character of Roohadar to display the thought behind an obsolete Hamlet ghost. In short, this is a practical application of what had been sub-consciously and consciously hidden in the maker’s mind.

Rooh, means soul, is a metaphorical name used for the character played by Irfan Khan. He has been depicted to be the cellmate of Dr. Meer, after being arrested by the military of Jammu & Kashmir. Thereafter, the body of Dr. Meer got infused with Roohadar’s soul. While the former person had already accepted death as his fresh fate, Roohadar still had high hopes to survive. That was his soul echoing within; whereas, Dr. Meer had nothing but a hollow structure of bones with him. This personifies Roohadar as the soulful form of Meer. Just as the ghost of King Hamlet brings a message for Prince Hamlet (here, Haider); something similar occurs in this film, when Roohadar delivers the message to Haider noting about his father’s murderer. He also carried the message to avenge his father’s death by killing death; this was put by Dr. Meer to Roohadar in the following words, “Mere Bete Ko Mera Paigaam De Dena… Use Bolna Ki Mera Inteqaam Le Mere Bhai Se. Unke Do Ankhon Pe Goli Daage Jin Ankhon Ne Unki Maa Par Fareb Daalein The.” This is another affordable method of the visage of inter-character message.

There is a scene when both Rooh’s and Meer’s body are thrown into the water of Jhelum; the concept of soul and body comes to light to a wider extent. On such a callous immersion, Meer’s body can be seen parting away from Rooh’s body, as if the soul gets tilted away from a person’s body. Quite intelligently put up in the film, one must say!

It’s turn to know about the lead character, Haider. Let’s discuss the importance of Prince Hamlet in the tragic tale by the master of Avon. The drama starts from the ghost of King Hamlet and ends with a haphazard tragedy of death and blood. Prince Hamlet has actually been depicted as the child side of King Hamlet. Now, let’s know how.

Understanding Shakespeare’s psyche has made us reach to this conclusion. Getting through the lines of the classic Hamlet, one can easily spot out the peculiar relation between Prince Hamlet and his mother, Gertrude. A discreet sequence of emotions! Be it the tenderness between the two, although not exactly the one that is very usual between a mother and her child, or the possessiveness inflicted by Prince on his mother. Somehow or the other, the relation or the mysterious bonding has been well put up in Haider by Vishal Bharadwaj.

Talking of Shahid Kapur, he has acted brilliantly. In this piece, we can after all claim that he can draw the line between under-acting and acting (now). Moreover, the scenes of lunacy do look realistic.

How can one leave behind Khurram (Claudius) portrayed by Kay Kay Menon? With his apparent ignorance and innocence, he looks perfect as the villain, who is not very polished, but reflects certain features of his background. He has been depicted to be able to play the balance role between immoral sympathy and ruthless behavior. Although, there has been one big feature missing in the character of Khurram, which I shall discuss in the further section.


There is something about the music, if we consider the blend of lyrics and its instrumental counterpart. It can be conveniently observed that a lot of research has been done while crafting the music of this film. Let’s begin with the romantic track ‘Khul Kabhi To’.

In this song, the lyrics clearly can be interpreted as the protagonist, Haider is treating Arshiya as his native land, Kashmir. This profoundly brings out his love for home and also, his agony on the ruining part of his life at J&K. If we probe deeper, we can notice the subtlety of the lyricist when sexuality is mixed with the term ‘mother’ in the song. This takes us back to what we have studied in the above section (Characterization of Haider).

Haider is making love to Arshiya, his romance counterpart; there are lyrics when he is relating her graceful parts with that of the nature (at Kashmir). One must also know that ‘home’ is directly connected with ‘mother’, as she is the one who can be termed as the decider, where her baby is to take birth. Hence, nature can be studied as a synonym for mother. This brings out the emotions, although not directly, through Haider’s mind. Do not forget that the lyrics are not being spoken out by Haider, it is expressed as the harmonious coherence of Haider’s thoughts.

‘Bismil’ is a musical play that is an amalgamation of melodrama, truth, fact, and self-realization. Much similar to Hamlet, when a play was structured by Prince to make Claudius realize his guilt. It is presented in an interesting and engaging manner. The voice of Sukhwinder Singh adds more to the episode of revenge.

There is not much to talk about ‘Jhelum’, rather than commenting it to be a bridge between the situations that brings Haider, partly, to some conclusion. The climax is well complemented with ‘Aao na’; the song clearly brings out the mortality of human life. Although, it seems to have been overworked, ultimately leading to a clear, but forced depiction.

Haider: Some Hints Of Blemishes

Even if the movie is quite intriguing, some laggings can be seen in the script, if not in the filmmaking. Roohadar walking out in heroic steps, does not match the quality of this film. This can be termed as influential or even dashing, but the film needed a more mysterious entry of Roohadar into the film. For eg. Roohadar stepping up under the dark sky, with more focus on his steps, rather than the focus-defocus effect could have appeared more realistic (if compared to Hamlet).

The first half really does not seem to go along the track, as misfits occur when Arshiya (the character) tries to console Haider. Such misfits are seen often, with Tabu takes time to absorb the soul of the character. Vishal should have worked a bit harder with the play (screenplay) in establishing characters like Khurram and Liyaqat.

Now coming to the climax sequence, the concept of mortality was not well established; although, it could not have been very better, as done by Vishal Bharadwaj. Overall, even with such hints, the film can be rated as a 7/10 piece.

Haider: Conclusion

Vishal Bharadwaj has adapted Shakespeare dramas in the past and has done it in his own way. This has two big advantages; on one hand, this does not hamper the director’s individuality, and at the same time, he does not stay back from paying a healthy and filmy tribute to the master. Haider is his latest piece, an adaptation of Hamlet; it is worth saying that Vishal has once again produced something that was heavily metaphorical, but quite engaging as well. From characterization to music selection, he has adopted a polished approach.

Moreover, the film is so smoothly crafted (almost) that one does not really find it to be an exact copy of the classic; it rather looks like a real story with co-incidences leading to the plot of Hamlet. Hats off to the Auteur!

To make it easier, I would like to say that he has partly understood Shakespeare’s perception of human psyche.


  • Haider (Film) – Vishal Bharadwaj
  • Hamlet – William Shakespeare


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