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Bollywood’s Hamlet in the U.S. | Bard in Multimedia


Shahid Kapoor plays Haider in Bollywood's adaptation of Hamlet, from director Vishal Bhardwaj.

Shahid Kapoor plays Haider in Bollywood’s adaptation of Hamlet, from director Vishal Bhardwaj.

The long-awaited Bollywood flick Haider, a modern adaptation of Hamlet, didn’t get much of an opening in the U.S., but the film’s laurels suggest that it is well worth seeking out on DVD (available on Amazon).

The Guardian film critic Mike McHill writes that this “radical Indian version of Hamlet gives the story compelling political angles… A palpable hit, in any language.” Filmfare magazine critic Rachit Gupta writes that “Haider doesn’t have an ounce of the commercial thrills and spills that entertain the 100-core masses. But it does have an undeniable dramatic punch. It is one of the best stories you’ll every watch on celluloid.”

The film won for Best Picture and Vishal Bhardwaj won for Best Director from the International Indian Film Academy, and the film took home several National Film Awards including Best Music Direction and Best Costume Design. At the Rome Film Festival, Haider  won the People’s Choice Awards. The Hollywood Reporter praises cinematographer Pankaj Kumar’s beautiful photography and lighting, writing, “harsh as the glare of a Kashmir winter, other times warm and evocative,” and the film earns The New York Times Critics’ Pick.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 6.47.17 PMHaider opens in 1995 Srinagar, India during a violent clash between Pakistan and India over control of Kashmir. After Haider’s (Shahid Kapoor) father, a doctor, is caught operating on a leader of the pro-separatist group, the doctor is arrested, and the family’s home is bombed. Haider leaves college to find his father. When he gets home, he finds that his mother (Tabu) in a romantically involved with her husband’s brother (Kay Kay Menon). Suspicions that the two are involved in his father’s disappearance mount.

Critics give mixed reviews on the film’s lead Shahid Kapoor, but almost all of the reviewers point out Tabu’s performance as Haider’s mother. The New York Times’ critic Rachel Saltz goes so far as to say that the film should have been named after Tabu’s character, Ghazala, rather than Haider: “Ghazala has such depths and mystery that she hijacks the movie, pushing Haider (Hamlet) to the sidelines in his own story. It’s her interior drama that draws you in: Where does her loyalty lie? What is she thinking? Will she take up arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, change the tale?”

The film, produced by UTV Motion Pictures and Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures, is the third installment in the director’s Shakespeare trilogy: Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). The former premiered at Toronto Film Festival and the latter at Cannes. All three of the films are available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon. None of the films is currently available for streaming.

Film director and writer Deborah Voorhees writes reviews, features, and a weekly column Bard in Multimedia that publishes each Monday and covers books, films, recordings, web content, videos, video games, radio, television, and all emerging mediums. Send press releases and comments multimedia@theshakespearestandard.com.

Author Deborah Voorhees

I am the writer and director of the indie film Billy Shakespeare, which asks, “What if Shakespeare never existed until now?” I also create music videos, shorts, and other feature films. I am in the editing room on a short from Othello and a film titled Catching Up. Prior to filmmaking, I covered arts and entertainment as a writer and editor for 16 years, mostly with The Dallas Morning News; I taught British Literature to AP and on-level seniors, Acting for Film at Eastern New Mexico State, and privately as a screenwriting coach. Currently, I am the Associate Editor for Multimedia at The Shakespeare Standard.

More posts by Deborah Voorhees

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