Film: Zee 5: Haddi
Director: Akshat Ajay Sharma
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anurag Kashyap, Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Ila Arun
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Just when we thought that the entertainment industry, at least the OTT, got the representation of the transgender community on screen right (‘Made in Heaven’, ‘Taali’), where the concept of inclusivity is not mere tokenism, comes ‘Haddi’, which goes the other way.
Even before we are introduced to the characters, Nawazuddin’s voice from behind a dark screen asks us, “Pata hai humse log kyun darte hain? Kyunke humein vardaan hai. Hamara aashirwad bahut shaktishali hota hai aur shraap bahut bhayavah. Aur uss sey bhayavah jaante ho kya hota hai? Hamara badla. (Do you know why people fear us? We are endowed with great power. Our blessings have immense strength and our curses are potent. And do you know what is even more fearsome? Our vengeance).” So much for inclusivity!
But then, ‘Haddi’ is a revenge drama. Pure and simple. A transgender woman, Hari/Harika/Haddi (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is out to take revenge on a land shark-turned-politician, Pramod Ahlawat (Anurag Kashyap), who eliminates her entire clan and husband Irfan (Md Zeeshan Ayyub) in order to grab their haveli.
While director Akshat Ajay Sharma (also the co-writer) keeps the plot predictable, he focuses more on violence that borders on gore. Murder happens at the drop of a hat as Haddi alters between Hari and Harika, fighting fire with fire. Yes, she resumes her discarded male self to infiltrate Ahlawat’s bone-chilling business empire, where Haddi gets a job of separating human bones from the flesh (he didn’t get the name Haddi for nothing!).
Anyway, driven by grief as Harika goes about her revenge business, she tells us, “Marta nahin hoon main.” And believe us, she does not die. Even when she is shot four times by Ahlawat in her legs and arms, she springs to life soon enough to flex her muscles and engage in a hand-to-hand combat with him and a dozen more in the climax!
The first hour of this 135-minute film builds intrigue and tension. Nawaz, sometimes as the effeminate Hari and sometimes as the garishly made-up Harika (we miss Sushmita Sen’s character in Taali with her 5 pm shadow and large bindi that looked much more dignified), takes us through a range of emotions, anguish being one of them, both physical and psychological. From going under the knife to changing her gender to the pain of losing her dear ones, she goes through it all.
In the meantime, we get to peep into the ways of the trans gharana led by Revati Amma (Ila Arun). From her, we get to know the mythological standing of the community vis-a-vis their position in the heteronormative world, which she explains through the story of the Mahabharata’s Iravan and his sacrifice. There is a reference to the Ramayana too. Arun in her brief role makes an impact.
The highlight, however, are the tender moments between Harika and her lover Irfan, a trans rights activist. Their chemistry is cracking. Zeeshan, who had said in a recent interview that this was the first time he played a romantic lead, nails his part. He does not have to do much. His earnest expression and brooding good looks do the job.
While Nawaz with his nuanced performance and a wide range of style statements keeps us hooked to the predictable plot, Anurag Kashyap, on the other hand, is happy to make his character, Ahlawat, out and out eccentric. He seems to be having fun in front of the camera as he sings, doles out profound knowledge or pulls the trigger.
The film has some good songs, especially the soulful ‘Beparda’, and background scores that are in sync with the situations. The camera effectively captures the scenes, be it the violence or the emotional outbursts. With these enticing elements coating the haddi, it surely can make it to your post-dinner menu (my apologies to the non-meat eaters).