HAIDER – Vishal Bhardwaj

Original Review by Alan RogersHaider

Indian director Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2014 film, Haider, is an adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy, Hamlet. The story’s setting is transferred from the Royal Court of Denmark to the insurgency-hit Kashmir conflicts of the mid-1990s. Upon receiving word that his father has gone missing, poet Haider returns home to find that security forces have detained his father for harbouring militant fighters. The acclaimed film then follows Haider as he seeks revenge on those responsible for his father’s situation whilst, at the same time, becoming reluctantly involved in the politics of the region. In addition to film direction, Vishal Bhardwaj is also a prolific composer who has scored all of his most recent films. As well as penning the music for a number of songs for the film, Bhardwaj has written a tense score for a relatively small musical ensemble featuring piano, strings and rhythmic percussion elements infused with subtle regional instrumentation and ghostly female vocals. Together, the score’s various parts deliver a powerful experience that may concentrate more on the anxiety and unease of the plot than on the action, but which is surprisingly fresh due to the subdued use of the ethnic orchestrations.

The opening track, “Haider Theme”, features one of the main musical ideas of the score; a simple repeating three-note motif. An initial statement of the motif by ghostly female vocals gives both track and score an eerie feel given added substance with the inclusion of supportive strings that echoes the musical motif. A countering piano motif then adds an additional unsettling tone to the theme. These ideas are then heard at various points throughout the score (e.g., “Mukhbir”) with subtle changes in orchestrations transforming the motif in ways that prevent it from becoming repetitive. For example, solo cello adds a mournful feel to cues such as “Crackdown” and “The Past” and a statement of the theme in the final track, “Sacrifice”, by solo piano makes it feel even more anguished.

Two more musical devices form the bulk of the remainder of Bhardwaj’s score. Early in the album, “Operation Bulbul” and the aforementioned “Crackdown” feature pulsing percussion that’s embellished with subtle ethnic instrumentations, adding further interest to the mix. The added energy that the score receives from the introduction of strong rhythmic elements is brought to the fore in tracks such as “Election” and “Mukhbir”; tracks that are driven by a strong base percussive line and supported by a variety of varying elements such as twangy electric guitar, shimmering ethnic strings and prominent synths. Low register staccato strings (“Downtown”) and frenzied string ostinato pattern in several of the concluding tracks further vary these rhythmic cues. Midway through the album, “Roohdaar”, a cue that presumably introduces the audience to a key character in the plot, features a theme that’s very contemporary in its feel and orchestrations. Usually opening with a catchy bass line statement, low guttural strings and growling electric guitars give this theme an immediacy that’s a strong component of the score. Surprisingly though, this theme feels somewhat at odds with the rest of the score (“Roohdaar” and “Downtown”). Added embellishments such as synths, cymbal hits and statements of the theme on strong staccato strings further exacerbates this feeling of separation from the rest of the score but it does make for a powerful contrast to the rest of the score. The reason why this theme is so different from the rest of the score may be down to the fact that this theme is a strong element of one of the songs featured in the film. A prominent rock guitar version of the theme heard first in “Roohdaar” is also heard in “Aao Na” which opens the Haider soundtrack album (“Aao Na” is composed by Bhardwaj, with lyrics by Gulzar and vocals by Vishal Dadlani).

The final track on the album, “Sacrifice”, is also worth specific mention. It is a particularly low-key finale to the album musically, but it is entirely in keeping with the ending of the film where no-one seems to come out on top. Bhardwaj’s theme for Haider is at its most doleful in “Sacrifice”; sombre piano chords and forlorn cello passages reminds us that this story is based on the classic Shakespearian tragedy. A final, somewhat unsettling upward moving coda in the strings – a device common for previous fuller statements of Haider’s theme – seems to be about as optimistic as the score gets. Finally, sustained synth washes, various scratchy string elements, unsettling soundscapes and tolling percussion add a tension to round out the score.

The three main score elements give the listener of Haider’s “background score” (how Bhardwaj’s music is referenced on the album’s artwork) an entertaining listening experience, i.e., the rather introverted theme for the film’s eponymous protagonist set against the more vigorous percussive elements. I particularly enjoy how the subtle, restrained use of geography-specific instrumentations gives the familiarity of conventional strings and rock elements a fresh sound. The music for Bollywood films is an area I am shamefully unfamiliar with. I think that this is due mainly to the fact that most soundtrack releases features only the film songs rather than any tracks from the film score. I haven’t seen a case before where a score and a separate soundtrack album have been released. Online stores labelling these albums as “World Music” (if they are genre-labelled at all) doesn’t help when it comes to discovering gems such as Bhardwaj’s music for Haider.

I found Vishal Bhardwaj’s orchestral score for Haider a thoroughly enjoyable listen. The various parts to the score do come together as an entertaining whole despite the apparent step-difference in musical style of the cues featuring the thematic material heard in the song, “Aao Na”. It’s certainly not a score that’s going to deliver anything approaching a “feel good factor”; it’s an emotionally-charged, sombre effort with moments of energy that offers a freshness via its instrumentation and orchestration choices. Haider is an album that hints at the treasures to be found in film music from India and the Indian subcontinent and is very much recommended. Vishal Bhardwaj’s orchestral score for Haider is available from a range of online digital scores and audio clips can be found HERE. The soundtrack album, which features nine songs from the film is also available (HERE).

Rating: ****

  1. Haider Theme (1:24)
  2. Conflict (2:14)
  3. Operation Bulbul (1:16)
  4. Crackdown (3:28)
  5. Threat (0:22)
  6. Election (2:48)
  7. Mukhbir (3:05)
  8. Roohdaar (2:58)
  9. Graveyard (1:45)
  10. Mama 2 (1:29)
  11. The Past (2:27)
  12. Downtown (2:36)
  13. The Prayer (1:19)
  14. Execution (1:51)
  15. Liyaqat’s Return (1:27)
  16. Duel (2:50)
  17. Attack (1:04)
  18. Freedom (1:52)
  19. Sacrifice (5:31)

Running Time: 41:56

UTV (2014)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: