'Haddi' review: Nawazuddin Siddiqui tries to pull up this dragging thriller

In the beginning, Haddi keeps its cards close to its chest. We see Siddiqui playing on his home ground, being sly and innocently cunning.
A scene from the trailer of the movie 'Haddi' (Photo | YouTube)
A scene from the trailer of the movie 'Haddi' (Photo | YouTube)

Earlier this year, Nawazuddin Siddiqui starred in Tiku Weds Sheru, another one of his shaadi-byah comedies. At its climax, when the heroine (Avneet Kaur) is dancing dismally in front of lecherous, cigar-smoking villains, Siddiqui enters but not ‘heroically’ per se. As the dancers part, we see him, dressed in drag, swaying to the beats. For a minute, I thought the auto-play function led me to an early release of Haddi. It was one of the most baffling and unnecessary sequences I saw on the screen this year. There was more to come.

In the beginning, Haddi keeps its cards close to its chest. We see Siddiqui playing on his home ground, being sly and innocently cunning. When he slices the throat of his blabbering, long-haired friend and throws him off the bus, flashbacks from Liar’s Dice (2013) and Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (2012) overlapped in my mind. It felt comforting to see the actor back with his sinister self, but that was all. The aces I was expecting up the film’s sleeve turned out to be useless jokers. Haddi is a rather plain revenge saga presented in a non-linear narrative which doesn’t work. After a while, I couldn’t join the dots and couldn’t care less.

Siddiqui plays the eponymous Haddi, a hoodlum who nicks dead bodies in UP and sells their bones. One night, he witnesses a tussle between a man in drag and a cop. Haddi strangles the cop and saves the man Chunna (Shriddhar Dubey). He then joins this little racket of dressing up as a prostitute and swindling desperate men at night, which is being captained by Rajesh Kumar’s Satto bhai. Chunna, Satto and Saharsh Shukla’s Jogi, come under Inder (Saurabh Sachdeva). Haddi soon makes inroads into the gang and starts playing one against the other. He is climbing the ladder to grab the one at the top: local politician Pramod Ahlawat (Anurag Kashyap). In an abysmally long flashback, it is revealed that Haddi is actually Harika, a transwoman, whose adopted family of transpeople was slaughtered by Ahlawat and his men over a property dispute. Sabka badla…

Siddiqui dresses up well and is equally menacing and scheming. The film, however, can’t seem to decide its identity. Is it a revenge tale? Is it about a transwoman coming to terms with themself? Is it a gritty-crime thriller? The film packs in everything from bone smuggling to land grabbing to trans rights. There is also a shot that shows many funeral pyres burning. Was that a sly take on Covid-19 deaths?
Haddi is director Akshat Ajay Sharma’s debut. Sharma has been Kashyap’s assistant director in the past and the influences from his mentor’s filmography is splattered all over the film.

Think Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) when Siddiqui is locked inside a room and he incessantly beats on the door before stopping abruptly and assessing the situation. Think GOW 2 when Siddiqui’s Haddi shoots someone who trusts him and then admires himself in the mirror. Sharma, however, lacks the telling you can take from a Kashyap scene. He doesn’t let characters simmer before blood starts flowing. The result is a jerky, garbled mess being shouldered by Siddiqui’s performance and being dragged by Kashyap’s.

Now, I can understand the cinematic lure of pitting Siddiqui against Kashyap, but the director, self-admittedly and rightfully, seems uncomfortable in front of the camera. Kashyap fits better in cameos (recently Made in Heaven S2). For Haddi, he has been given a meaty role and he seems to chew on it a bit too much. In an attempt to appear evil, he grins a lot, cusses a lot and is just a lot. Initially burly and bullying, he turns burlesque soon when, at the climax, he practically succumbs to Siddiqui’s punches as if tired of the film. Me too, Kashyap, me too.

Film: Haddi
Director: Akshat Ajay Sharma
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anurag Kashyap, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Rajesh Kumar, Saurabh Sachdeva
Streaming on: ZEE5
Rating: 2/5

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