Haddi begins with a saree-clad Nawazuddin Siddique sharpening a blade and delivering dialogue in his unique ominous tone. Thus begins the journey of this film. Where else have we seen Nawazuddin being used to start a movie or a film with a voiceover? Yes, Sacred Games was that show, where Nawaz’s character, Ganesh Gaitonde, brought terror to our screens. Haddi is based in a similar universe, where gruesome violence is commonplace, and brutality is just a word. The only reality is power and money. Somewhere, Akshat Ajay Sharma, the director of the film, managed to introduce themes revolving around the lives of sexual minorities in the story. It’s great to see a film with great performances, that bring to the screen topics and characters, that have been seldom talked about. But is gangster-revenge-Drama the apt genre for these characters? Akshat seems to be so heavily inspired by Anurag Kashyap’s filmography that in every scene, there is a hangover to bring out the quality that Anurag’s films have. He even managed to get Anurag to act as the terrorizing goon-turned-politician, Pramod Ahlawat.
Let’s get back to this film. Haddi is an extremely dark film, both literally and figuratively. Many scenes seem to be badly lit. And the daytime shots are so bright, it feels like an assault on our senses. Maybe my apprehensions are due to the fact that the story just didn’t take the shape it had promised to take. The brutal killings never stopped, and things happened to characters, where murder was the only revenge. The name Haddi refers to Nawaz’s character in the film. He is known by this nickname because, once, he was almost lynched in his village. He was hanged by the neck, but he survived because there was no Haddi or ‘bone’ in his neck. So the noose slipped off, and he survived. These legends are like the Joker’s backstory. None of them are real, or rather not the exact truth. The truth is gut-wrenching and is revealed to us just to make us feel the disgusting nature of this revenge.
I don’t know if I should say anything about the villain Prahlad Ahlawat, the politician in the film, or what his relationship with Haddi is. Maybe it will impact your viewing experience. So, let me talk about Nawaz and Anurag’s scenes together. Nawaz as Haddi and Anurag as Prahlad come together in many scenes. Haddi is on his path of revenge, and Prahlad simply wants more power. Their dynamic together is quite unique, as Anurag has directed Nawaz in many films such as Gangs of Wasseypur, Black Friday, Raman Raghav, and more. Nawaz is Anurag’s find. And seeing them together is quite a thrilling experience. Or rather, it should have been. But Anurag is nowhere near Nawaz’s caliber. Whatever he was trying to do with the accent, only he knows. Even Nawaz, with the change in his gait and posture, struggles to bring consistency to his performance. At one point in time, his voice and delivery seemed to change altogether, and the famous Ganesh Gaitonde came to the forefront. The scenes he has with Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub is where Nawaz really gets to showcase his emotional preparation for the role of a transgender woman.
Convoluted is not the right word for this story. It’s the feeling, that the writers believe in obfuscation as a good way to keep the audience engaged. On the surface, Haddi is a plain revenge drama. If you have a transgender protagonist, then there is a Novelty added to the emotional drama and the gender politics of the film. There should have been an independent plot that didn’t need to involve this revenge plot. Only then would the representation of transgender people have been meaningful. Right now, it feels like they are added just for Novelty. There is a mythological reference given in the film about the story of Iravan and Mohini. According to the Mahabharata, Iravan was a warrior who had to be sacrificed to win the war in Kurukshetra. His last wish was to get married, so Lord Krishna, a male by birth, took the female form and came as Mohini to fulfill Iravan’s final wish. This powerful story shouldn’t have allowed the Makers to go berserk with Haddi’s characterization. The poetic license to show Haddi as invincible was a foray into sentimentality of the worst kind. Transgender people aren’t superhumans, and the film just couldn’t deal with this fact.
Haddi suffers from a problem in its Tonality. Scenes don’t carry forward the momentum, they gained in the previous ones. And if they did, then everything stops for a breezy song montage. The songs aren’t great, except perhaps ‘Beparda,’ so that disrupts the film. The dialogue seems to have been borrowed from pop culture, which doesn’t suit the film. They seem to be coming from an actor’s lack of conviction about what to do with the scenes they have to perform. Nawaz has always depended on a believable screen presence. He seems to have the quality, that very few film actors have of actually thinking about their next move. All that is not what the director seems to be interested in, though. The plot is already set, and getting to the result becomes the priority. That is the feeling I got when I watched the film.
Others might enjoy the film, for it doesn’t stop apart from the scenes where Haddi, who was born Hari, gained her true form as Harika through surgery. She was powerful as it was, yet she had to disguise herself as a man for revenge. Haddi lacks conviction and proceeds to rush through the plot, hoping it will be a satisfying experience. And what is it with Nawaz’s recent films, where it seems that the third act looks ridiculous? In his film Tiku Weds Sheru, he came cross-dressing as a woman in the third act, and that too out of the blue. Was that preparation for this film? The rest of the cast does a decent job. Haddi could have been much more powerful, if it had an organic flow to the story rather than trying to forcefully mold it into a revenge drama. Ultimately, the film collapses under the weight of this genre, which otherwise could have been primarily a human story about loss and identity, with revenge as an aftermath.