Haddi Movie Review: Akshat Ajay Sharma’s rather generic ‘Haddi’, on ZEE5, isn’t a bad watch, but its main achievement is to serve as an example of ‘campy arthouse masala’

Akshat Ajay Sharma
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anurag Kashyap lead a huge cast in a revenge story in the mould of Tamil/Telugu masala movies, but without the electricity that courses through the best films in the genre.
Haddi Movie Review

Haddi Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Zee Studios
Director : Akshat Ajay Sharma
Music Director :

When you hear of a film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anurag Kashyap and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Ila Arun and Vipin Sharma in it, your mind thinks a certain way about what lies ahead. You think of something that's going to exist in the artier end of the mainstream spectrum. And the opening portions of Akshat Ajay Sharma’s Haddi do hint at that zone. Over a visual of a big, fat knife being washed clean of blood, we hear Nawazuddin's voice (he plays a transwoman): "Our blessing is powerful, our curse is fearsome, and our revenge is terrifying." I have translated this bit, and English is a cooler language temperature-wise, but in Nawazuddin's measured drawl, the words used in the line – "vardaan", "shraap", "badla" – sting like a whiplash.

And soon, we realise we are in a big, fat Tamil/Telugu-flavoured masala movie, which includes the "second-half flashback" now-patented by the director Shankar. The reason for the badla/revenge is a blood-soaked set piece that's staged like a savage Western, and the only change from the usual films we watch of this nature is the presence of transwomen, in house headed by the graceful Ila Arun. These films rise and fall due to the newness quotient in them. The pact we make with the director is this: Yes, we know you are going to give us an intentionally over-the-top revenge drama, but what are you going to give us that we have not seen earlier? One of these inventions is the depiction of the process by which a male-by-birth transitions into a woman. It's painful to witness, and we carry this agony with us till the end. We want the bad guys to die very bad deaths.

The other interesting aspect of Haddi – set in UP and the environs of Delhi – is its incorporation of myth, which is, again, a big part of masala cinema. We get a "rebirth". We get a story from the Ramayana. We get a brilliantly mythical weapon, made from human bones. And there's the fact that simple, gentle folks who just want to lead their lives can be transformed into bloodthirsty murderers who get involved with businesses that strip human bodies of muscle and flesh and make use of the bones. This is another glorious over-the-top touch, which explains the title. Throw in a gang that uses transwomen sex workers  and super-dramatic lighting and crimes committed to the backdrop of swag music, and you have everything needed for two-something hours of lurid pulp fiction.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui (whose character is compared to a cockroach) sells the transwoman with just the right amount of overplaying this kind of universe needs – and by that, I mean the kind of universe where people casually throw around phrases like "khoon bhari maang ki kasam" and "andar ka jaanwar". Anurag Kashyap is fun to watch as an evil politician, who says pulpy things like he is fire and not a flower. (That's no spoiler, because politicians in these films are always evil.) Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is good as he always is, but he doesn't get much to do. But as the film's gentlest character, he sells his character's love in a lovely way. The very visible age difference between him and his costar adds a poignant layer to their relationship.

Haddi is not bad, but it should have been much better. It ends up one of those films that sounds more interesting than the way it plays out. Despite so many specific touches – the bone business, the transwomen – the narrative remains generic and stays at a distance. Towards the end, we can predict every plot point – which is not something you could say about the intriguing early scenes that set up this world. I laughed at times, which is par for the course when things get so over-the-top. I enjoyed the gruesomeness, the shootouts, and a scene that involves a charred skeleton in a neon-red cage. But I would have also liked to feel more. Still, when someone studying Indian cinema in the future asks for an instance of "campy arthouse masala," Haddi would be one of the first films that come to mind. That may not be an insignificant achievement.

Rate Haddi Movie - ( 0 )
Public/Audience Rating
Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.