Shahid Agonistes

by Sumana Roy

I do not know of any instance in trichological history where a man’s hair was turned into a hashtag. For three days, or so I now hear, a period as long as the British Renaissance on a comparative time scale on Twitter, a hashtag trended in India: #DontGoBaldShahid. The man in question was the actor Shahid Kapoor, and he had decided to go bald to play Haider, a Vishal Bhardwaj film that is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There are two prefatory comments that should be made here: First, that Shahid Kapoor has ‘beautiful’ hair, lovely enough to be featured in a shampoo advert a few years ago. Second, my students had a question for me the next day: ‘Ma’am, was Hamlet bald?’

I groped for an answer: Shakespeare was, as the portraits tell you, I replied.

The jokes and the tweets kept on coming the next few days:

What would happen to the romantic scenes in which the hero and the heroine run their fingers through each other’s hair? Shahid’s lustrous hair was perfect for slow-mo scenes, with the wind exercising his hair. Only villains in Hindi films went bald: Anupam Kher’s Dr. Dang in Karma, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Shakaal in Shaan, and recently Sanjay Dutt as Kaancha Cheena in Agneepath. The website Pinkvilla dedicated an entire list to such jokes, all couched around the apprehension of Shahid going bald. Sample this: ‘When pictures of a bald Justin Bieber turned up, many of his female fans shaved off their heads. We are afraid the same might happen if Shahid gets rid of his hair. Have a heart Shahid, do you really want cute teenage girls going bald because of you?’

Another website, All About Women, collected what its editors thought were the best tweets with the hashtag #DontGoBaldShahid. Here are two of those:

Apparently, Shahid Kapoor is taking this #MahatmaKePathPar hashtag a little too seriously. #DontGoBaldShahid

#DontGoBaldShahid else Rahul Gandhi will try to sell you combs

What had set this off was this tweet by the actor:

Reading scenes for the final sched of HAIDER..Nervous and excited..Last 4 days of hair I can run my hands thru..Snowed out kashmir calling
— sHAhID kapooR (@shahidkapoor) January 25, 2014
Chop chop day
— sHAhID kapooR (@shahidkapoor) January 29, 2014

Shanatics, the portmanteau word for Shahid Kapoor’s fans (“Sha”+fanatics), went berserk: pleas and requests, demands and warnings filled Twitter, so much so that the actor was compelled to make a statement — that he was touched by concern of his fans (for his hair). Well, he didn’t say that last bit, but that’s how it was.
UTV Motion Pictures then released a short clip of the “transformation”, as they called it.

We are already aware of the back story when we come to this video — that when Bhardwaj offered Shahid Kapoor the role, it came with a condition. ‘You’ll have to go bald, Shahid.’ Kapoor confesses that it took him a few seconds to say ‘yes’. There is more to this hair story: in a television interview with Koel Purie four years ago, Kapoor had been questioned about his co-actors’ teasing comments about his hair fixation, how he was always working towards getting it right. The only director for whom he was willing to chop off his hair was Vishal Bhardwaj, he said. Quite clearly, his words had returned to stake their claim.

The video ‘stars’ Shahid, his hairdresser, and Vishal Bhardwaj. And so Shahid goes: ‘Vishal Sir is really happy … the pleasure …’, words that turn his hair into a personal myth. In this commentary about his hair, the next person Kapoor tells us about is the hairdresser: ‘He likes to kill softly and steadily …’ And then a joke: ‘What will the shampoo feel? Dude, what happened …’. Vishal Bhardwaj then tells Shahid about his initial conceptualisation of Haider’s insanity: ‘At first I wanted to get only one half of your hair cut, the other half would remain,’ he says. Perhaps he had this image of ‘insanity’ in mind?


(Read The Whole Interview Here)

All this brings me to my students’ questions then: Why did Haider have to go bald?

The first manifestations of insanity seem to come from the hair — images of the uncombed hair of poets and scientists, attested and perpetrated in popular culture, to the ‘crazy hair’ of madmen and women. In mental health homes, for instance, it is common practice to chop off the long hair of women — the reason given is the difficult ‘maintenance’ of long hair.

The UTV Motion Pictures video is a footnote (hair-note?), true, but in the film we do not know who cuts Haider’s hair. Does he do it himself? Is that an act of insanity? Or is it only a guise, another instance of ‘chutzpah’? To return to the question then, why a bald Haider? Is Bhardwaj placing the Hindu ritual of the son getting his hair tonsured after the father’s death in the Kashmiri context then? Or is Bhardwaj purposely mixing Shakespeare’s Hamlet with John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, whose strength is contained in his hair and who, like Haider, considered himself a victim of betrayal by women. Here is Samson revealing the secret of his strength to Delilah:

“No razor has touched my head, for I have been a nazirite for God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, my strength will leave me, and I shall grow weaker and be like anyone else.”

The human skull (whose skull it is the credits do not tell us of course) is an important prop and protagonist in Haider. It also does not have any hair. Is baldness a precondition of death?

Here is a mention of Hamlet’s hair in Shakespeare. This is Gertrude speaking to her son:

And, as the sleeping soldiers in th’ alarm,
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Starts up and stands on end. (Act III, Scene iv)

That Hamlet’s hair should be compared to soldiers during a call to arms makes one want to ask — Is this what it is, then, Kashmir Agonistes?

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