Haider was terrific. Vishal Bhardwaj continues to demonstrate why he is the most exciting filmmaker in India.
It’s healthy to judge a movie for what it is, and it’s not fair to criticise a movie for what it COULD HAVE been. But then this is VB and we’re movie buffs so nitpicking is inevitable. As Varun said, the things the film did were way more important and fascinating than the things it failed to do. But still, it would have been a BLOODY MASTERPIECE if these nuts and bolts were tighter. Coherence and consistency were missing. Lots of highs and then some abrupt lows.
So here is some nitpicking:
1) Haider's breaking point of madness was not well defined. We just see him sitting at his father’s grave in a long shot. The next time we see him he's already bald and bearded clowning in front of a crowd at Lal chowk. Hamlet PRETENDS to be mad at that stage. In this movie it doesn't come across that Haider is pretending. So on an acting standpoint Shahid didn't deliver fully in the scene, although he gets much better later on.
2) Haider's paranoia and craziness are also very surface level. Hamlet spends a lot of time talking to himself, saying crazy shit. Haider doesn't do that. Sure there is quirk, but it’s mostly forced quirk, and some of it was heavy handed too. I would have liked 15 more minutes delving into the madness descent of Haider.
3) The lack of madness is a direct result of the sense of ambiguity being sorely missing in the film. Everything is literal and real, unfortunately. Take for example the Gravediggers ‘So jao’ sequence – it is glorious and bizarre. Until the gravediggers start pulling out guns and shooting I thought Haider was hallucinating them. That stretch before the shootout should have been much longer. It could have helped expand upon Haider’s madness, and given us a chance to wonder WTF is going on. As a film buff, the thrill of trying to figure out if something is real or not, and picking out metaphors is unmatched.
4) Incidentally those two mysterious quirky Gravediggers with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end, are a repeat of the two mysterious quirky Bong goons with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end of Kaminey.
5) The lack of ambiguity goes for the character of Roohdar as well. As pointed out by NotsoSnob, it would have been terrific if Roohdar were ambiguous, naam se, story se, barf me jam gaya and all, full ghostly. Some of the best lines in the film belong to Irrfan, and he just kills it with his eyes. 10 more minutes of an ambiguous Irrfan wouldn’t have hurt.
6) The acting is great, but most of the characters in the movie are one note. They don’t surprise. What they are at the beginning of the movie, they're the same by the end as well. That includes Tabu with her beautifully tragic tear filled puffy eyes. Why didn’t these characters have a second dimension? The element of unpredictability and surprise is what I really missed, and that wasn't the case in Maqbool and Omkara.
7) Shazarch pointed out that the romantic song in the second half between Haider and Arshia, although fairly decent to listen to, was totally unnecessary and jarringly out of place. It kicks in right after a very tense scene. Clearly it was VB pandering to the commercial audience here.
8) They took out Hamlet's abuse towards Ophelia completely. I was half expecting Haider to force himself upon Arshia instead of serenading romantically with her in that song. Why? Because by that point Hamlet has already gone beyond romance and sympathy - he is an abusive asshole. Like in the original source material if Haider abused or raped her it would have justified Arshia losing her mind. Imagine - the one person she stood up for and loved abuses her and kills her family. It would have added more weight to her suicide. And the scene where Haider sees her dead body would have had more weight as well, because his guilt would have been tenfold.
9) In fact that section between that romantic song and Bismil is where the movie sags. It does pick up later, but I wish that portion was either tightened, or dedicated towards Haider losing it, or Roohdar.
10) The scene where Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) gets a phone call in his office was terrible. Very Bhandarkar way of showing that he is a 'corporate person'. Even his character could have used more screen time/fleshing out.
11) In the end the Indian army is credited with saving a lot of people in the Kashmir floods. This was only done so because the movie mildly portrays the Indian army in negative light, with respect to treatment of Kashmiris and terrorists. The text in the end was a lame way to say 'oh don’t worry the Indian army does good things also'. Of course this is a country which can’t accept anything remotely out of the box, so VB adding that text is not surprising. And look what happened – some effete idiots revolted anyway with #BoycottHaider.
12) The Kashmir politics ‘seems’ ballsy because they showed the Mama 2 Interrogation Center, but is actually surface level. It doesn’t give any deep insightful message about the political wrangling in Kashmir. So the text in the end about the ignominy of Kashmir due to terrorism doesn't make much of an impact (at least for me). But I may be wrong, because this bloke was offended. Perhaps it would have been better had VB just done away with explaining anything via text. Moreover the censors handed the film 41 cuts, so a lot of what was lost probably hurt the film. In any case the movie isn’t about Kashmir politics, it’s about a dysfunctional family surrounded by Kashmir politics. What the movie IS ballsy about is the extent to which VB went with the dynamics between Haider and Ghazala.
13) 'Aao na' was absent in the film. They tease the guitar strings so many times, but the song doesn't play at all. Kind of frustrating since it's such a kickass track.