Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2014 Hamlet adaptation Haider is awe-inspiring in many ways. Having read the play while I was in college, I was excited to see how it would play out on screen, and needless to mention, I was thrilled with the result. How the filmmaker spoke about difficult socio-political aspects of Kashmir, whilst also skilfully converting this masterful tragedy onto the celluloid, still gives me goosebumps. No one has been this bold about Kashmir in mainstream Hindi cinema since.
Haider has multiple breath-taking moments, but the one that captured my attention was the song “Bismil.” Google defines the Urdu word as wounded or sacrificial slaughter, which, interestingly is how Shahid’s Haider Meer draws parallel with his dead father. In the original play by Shakespeare, something similar happens when Hamlet directs and acts in a play called Mousetrap and basically points a finger at his uncle for his father’s murder. In this Sukhwinder Singh song, our antihero dances and lashes out at his mother (Tabu), and points accusatory fingers at Kay Kay Menon (the uncle figure in the film) for the death of his father.
Speaking about how this was the first time when the acclaimed singer got a chance to do a ballad kind of number, Sukhwinder told indianexpress.com, “It is a ballad, the song tells a story, something which used to happen in V Shantaram films. You could say this song is an example of an Indian opera. So when Vishal was narrating the song to me, I quickly realised that this kind of expression is something I would be doing for the first time in my career…So I usually sing effortlessly, but in Bismil, I had to be more calculative in a way, you could say. It wasn’t easy. In the middle, the song dips and uncovers its depth for the audience. It relates the murder mystery that is at the crux of the film. And it does so through visuals on screen, through its poetic lyrics, and through its music and singing.”
Sharing his reaction upon finally seeing his hard work come alive on screen, the National Award winner said, “First of all, I would like to say thank Vishal Bhardwaj, because he gave me the opportunity to sing a song like this. He believed in me. And for this, I really touch his feet. The song made me feel like I was once again sitting in one of those dreaded Maths classes, but the final result was like ‘qayamat.’And when I finally had the chance to see it on the big screen, I was flabbergasted. Also, I have to compliment Shahid Kapoor, who I could not help but ask: ‘Tum naachte ho ki udte ho bhai?‘ (Were you dancing, or flying?).”
Another highlight of the song is its poetic lyrics which subtly, but plainly tells the listener all they need to know about the story, and where does Haider’s primary angst stems from. The veteran Gulzar, Bhardwaj’s long-time collaborator, did an incredible job of summing up the entire film within a six-minute one-of-a-kind revenge dance track. The unusual choreography, plus the use of the puppet figures added that extra, almost theatrical value to the song.
Speaking about the choreographer Sudhesh Adhana, who won the National Award for his work in “Bismil,” Sukhwinder Singh said, “There was one more unique thing about Bismil which you can later confirm with Vishal Bhardwaj. The man who has choreographed this, had never choreographed anything in his life before. He’s from Kashmir; he has no filmy background or connections. He had some talent. The thing that he imagined, the fragrance of that imagination was captured by our filmmaker. There’s an Urdu term for this, Tassawwur.”
Clearly, that fragrance of the magic spun together by all these artistes has long lingered after the release of the film.
You can watch Haider on Netflix.