Hamlet to Haider


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Shahid Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj reveal the concept behind the movie

As the desi adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, ‘Haider’ has been winning over fans and critics, despite being dogged by controversy. Some trolls on social networking sites hailed the film as being anti-national, whilst others felt it didn’t stand a chance against the Rs150 crore and two years in the making blockbuster ‘Bang Bang’. But the cast and crew of ‘Haider’ had reasons to smile, as collections steadily rose by word of mouth, and the movie received a stamp of approval from cineastes.

Filmi Femme chatted with Vishal Bhardwaj, director of ‘Haider’ and Shahid Kapoor, who did a commendable job in the lead role; and in what is a rarity in Bollywood, both worked on the film for free!

Filmi Femme: While ‘Haider’ is set Kashmir in the 21st century, ‘Hamlet’ is set in Denmark in the 16th century, what are the parallels?

Vishal Bharadwaj: This beautiful story itself and the play which Shakespeare wrote, inspired me as the best way to complete my trilogy. With ‘Maqbool’, I looked for a story that would go beyond gang wars, bullets and guns, when I accidently happened to find ‘Macbeth’. Thus began my love for Shakespeare, and I read all his plays. For my second film ‘Omkara’, I had to decide between ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Othello’, and I chose ‘Othello’. Similarly for ‘Haider’, I picked ‘Hamlet’. Any Shakespeare play can be adapted to any time and place, so you can make a futuristic or period film, regardless of country or culture as the stories are still relevant. His plays are about the basic human conflicts and traits, and are very realistic and adaptable.

FF: Why is Kashmir the landscape for this movie?

 VB: In mainstream cinema, films that have been made in Kashmir show its perspective from the outside. But I think it is important to feel the conflicts from within, to understand how the people of Kashmir feel, as they have gone through this long period of conflict. The only way to make the audience understand is to place a character in that situation. When I visited Kashmir, I was surprised to see doctors and literary people, which changed the incorrect image I had, that had been influenced by mainstream cinema. That’s when I decided that the film will be about a middle class family, where the father is a doctor, the mother is a teacher, and how this family goes through conflict.

FF: How did the complex character of Hamlet develop, he is portrayed as a fool, but also a relatavist and sceptic; how did you understand him and play him on screen? Was it a challenging role?

Shahid Kapoor: (Laughs) It seems like I have done some really complex stuff! Yes, ‘Hamlet’ is so far, the most complex role that is considered to be essayed by an actor. I felt the weight of the role because all the complexities of ‘Hamlet’ were brought into ‘Haider’. I could understand why people would feel a certain way about the film, and the responsibility was a heavy one. Halfway through the film I used to as Vishal sir if he was happy with what I was doing. and he would keep looking at me and saying, ‘yeah, yeah, you are doing fine, go ahead!’ There were times when I felt I would miss out on something because of the complexity of the character and its many layers, which makes it difficult to analyse if you are doing the portrayal right or not. If Vishalji was happy, I was satisfied knowing that I had done it right. By far, Haider has been the most difficult character I have ever played.

VB: Shahid is one of the best actors in his age group and he still has to tap his talent even more. He has the ability to explore himself even more and he can do phenomenal work, because he is also hard working and sincere.

FF: Shahid, do you feel that you are being compared to your dad, Pankaj Kapoor?

SK: No, not at all. My dad is one of, or probably, the best actor we have in the country, so there is no comparision – there is only pride, love and learning from him, and nothing else.

FF: Vishal, how was it to work with both, the father and son? You are a great fan of Pankaj as well, right?

VB: I think of myself as a medium, I’m learning from Pankaj and passing this on to Shahid.

FF: Vishal, on one hand you make children’s films, and the other extreme is these dark movies – how do these concepts balance out?

VB: We all live in extremes, you know. If I can achieve that golden middle, I will be Buddha! We pass through extreme emotions daily, sometimes I am like a kid, at other times I am like a mature person, and I feel I have to explore both sides of me. Now all that’s left is to explore the adolescent within me!

SK: Vishalji and I have both done the movie in a fee-free structure because in our initial conversations, he explained that Haider is a very pure film and should not have any commercial parameters. I fell in love with the script instantly on hearing it and understood his concept. It is a very special film, and shouldn’t have anythign that could take away its honesty and purity. We felt that if we make it within a certain budget, we would be free to make the film the way we want to make it without feeling other pressures.

FF: Shahid, is it true that you felt happy portraying a dark character?

SK: I feel comfortable in uncomfortable spaces! After over a decade in acting, I now know that if you don’t take risks, you will not evolve as an actor. Working witin your comfort zone means repeating yourself, which is a big fear for m as I would have got bored. I enjoy doing roles that I am not sure I will pull off. As for the audience, they look for something that an actor hasn’t played before. An actor who rediscovers himself and tries new genres is interesting as you don’t know what to expect. As an actor, I enjoy taking a few risks and being adventurous!

FF: Since you are so possessive about your hair, how did it feel to go bald?

SK: It was very liberating, and I was okay with this when Vishalji explained the scene to me. Obviously it was a big decision, but it was an exciting thing to do, like sky diving!

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