Salman Khan symbolizes the acute sadness of Srinagar. Where an obsolete attachment to Bollywood of the early nineties brings to light, a city’s tenuous perch on the top branch of this vast nation-state. Songs from Main ne Pyar Kiya slip into this long film about the prison that is Kashmir, the fading sense that the nation-state is heaving over it. A boy returns from university. He is jolted out by this violent theater, and the particular occasion of ‘disappearance’ of his father. He is working on the revolutionary poets of British India. I am reminded of the not-so-unfamiliar walk of graduate-school escapism that lends itself to the entry of Ranveer in the Mahabharat-adaptation Rajneeti a couple of years ago. A US-returned nerd who is jolted into family-driven party politics. Likewise, Hamlet or Haider, prone to overthinking, whimsicality, lands in this theater of competing sovereigns. Where life is lived in a normalized grammar of ‘pilbiscite’, ‘Article 370’ and ‘disappearance’. Love blooms. An untold mountainous beauty grows uncanny. Salman Khan marks time through it all. Haider was never sure of the course of resolution of conflict. He simply wanted resolution to take its course. He was not sure of his own course of private vengeance against his uncle. He hesitates each time at the trigger. Haider, the boy and the film, are very much a tribute to a whimsical nerd’s devastating coming of age, amidst the theater of insurgent politics. On both sides, there are actors who know what they want, and choose this or that course of action. Haider chooses internality. And is confounded by it. He forces himself into domains of action. Spouts the words of vengeance. And yet, the rationality of vengeance is never fully clear to him. He steps back each time. And is unable to condemn the villains – his mother and uncle – unequivocally. This is the greatness and flaw of a young boy, trying to be human in a terrifying environment.
Haider, the film, points to Kashmir as India’s exceptional pocket. It is not Bharadwaj’s best film in my opinion. What it does do with some expertise is draw out micro-theaters of individual lives that live to transcend registers of conflict. Much is said and written about Kashmir. I take this film not to be about conflict-zones and states of exception. I take it to be about the acute humanity of a whimsical nerd’s point of view. I take it to be about moral battlefields that circumvent that logic of resolution through action. Cheers for overthinking, underactive Haiders of the real world. Those that put themselves in peril before choosing condemnation.