When I went to watch Haider with Tota yesterday, I was clear that I wanted to view it from a story telling perspective. Any story, fiction or non fiction has one basic plot structure. You raise one big question, through or by a character (or few characters) and then try answering the question. For example the big question in Sholay was, would Thakur and his team be able to defeat Gabbar? The big question in DDLJ (by first half) was, how would Shahrukh get Kajol? Everything else that you show after the question has been raised, is a journey towards the answer. The importance of the question getting answered is also typically clarified. In other words, the audience should be clear about what is at stake. What will happen if the question is not answered? If Gabbar is not defeated, the village will suffer. Why should you care about the village? Because you start liking the nice people that live in the village. Also because you have been told how bad Gabbar is. And so you relate to Thakur’s cause. You want Thakur to succeed. Just like Jai & Veeru. If you remember, when they first came, they were just planning to loot and run away. But there is a scene where the ‘stake’ of Gabbar not being defeated is made clear by Jaya (at an emotional level). In DDLJ, it is clear that if SRK does not get Kajol, he is going to be unhappy for the rest of his life. His happiness is at stake. Why does the audience care about his happiness. Because the audience spent the entire first half loving SRK as a person. He is nice, romantic, funny and respects women. See how the story was built up to make sure you do care about the big question getting answered. Unless the importance of the question is highlighted, no one would care about the answer in the first place.
Another thing – the answer should not be obvious. The journey to find the answer should have challenges, confusions, fights, anything. I don’t have to give examples. Just think of the journey in both Sholay and DDLJ and you would see that for yourself. In some stories, you also might have one big question getting answered mid-way and another big question popping up right then, and then the second half of the story focuses on this second question. Ever remember seeing a movie where you thought only the first half was good (or only the second half)? Those would be good examples of movies where two different questions were raised, with stakes clearly highlighted, and then two journeys were portrayed. But for several reasons, you only liked one of those.
The above theory explains the plot for any story. But let me also share this – another element that differentiates good story-telling from a poor one, is the pace at which the story is told. If pacing gets fucked up, the audience will get bored and will simply doze off (even if it’s good story). It is extremely difficult to get the pacing right and in my opinion, the amazing movie-makers and book writers are absolutely brilliant at that. Bottomline – it’s not just the story that matters – it’s also the story-telling.
Coming back to Haider, it raised two questions, one in each half. The first half asked – will Haider be able to find his dad? Is his dad even alive? This question was resolved around intermission. And then the movie asked, ok, so now that Haider knows the fate of his father, what would he do about it? The answer to this second question was resolved only in the last scene of the movie. Sounds like a fairly well though out plot. But I didn’t like the movie on several story / story-telling counts.
Let me begin with what I liked. I liked the DOP’s work (very similar to my own) and the music and sound (brilliant I would say). I also loved the Salmans. And the entire Salman Khan reference. Also, the acting may be (not the best, but fair enough). And now the two main things which didn’t work for me:
- The stake for the first question (will Haider be able to find his dad) was not too high. As an audience, I did not care about this question very badly. May be a little more time to establish a dad son relationship could have evoked me to genuinely wish and hope that Haider gets an answer to his question? The journey itself was fair enough. There was struggle, few emotional moments and some comedy as well. The unnecessary element of the journey, IMHO, was the time given to establish the nuances of the son-mother relationship. Or the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Those parts simply never added any motive to the journey. Nor were great sub-plots. I don’t know why those scenes where there. Just because Vishal wanted to adapt Hamlet?
- The journey to answer the second question (now that Haider knows the fate of his father, what would he do about it) was very nautanki types. It was neither clever or smart. It almost felt like Haider became a theatre artist in the second half. And for some reasons, the end, were the question was finally resolved, was unnecessarily dramatic. Though I must say, in this second journey, the stake was really high because after having seen Haider for over an hour, the curiosity to wait and watch what he finally does, did exist. But at several places, the pacing was screwed. When you raise a question that everyone wants an answer to, you can’t afford to bore your audience. This movie did not do a great job at this! It wasn’t bad either. Or may be I should have had more sleep before I went to watch Haider!
So that’s my technical review of Haider as a story and story-telling, more than as a cinematic movie. I know I did not much write about the mother-son sub-plot or the mother-uncle relationship plot, because though they existed and were shown, they simply never were part of, or effectively supported, the main story.