In 1995, during the insurgency in Kashmir, Hilaal Meer (Narendra Jha), a doctor based in Srinagar, agrees to perform an appendectomy on Ikhlaque, the leader of a pro-separatist militant group. To avoid detection, he performs the surgery at his house, much to the chagrin of his wife Ghazala (Tabu), who questions his allegiance. The following day, during a military raid, Hilaal is accused of harbouring terrorists. A shootout ensues at his home, during which Ikhlaque is killed and Hilaal is taken away for questioning. The doctor's house is bombed subsequently to kill any other militant hiding inside. Several days later, Hilaal and Ghazala's son, Haider (Shahid Kapoor), returns from Aligarh Muslim University to seek answers about his father's disappearance. Upon arrival, he is shocked to find his mother singing and laughing along with her brother-in-law, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Unable to understand his mother's behaviour, he begins searching for his father in various police stations and detention camps with the help of his childhood sweetheart Arshia Lone (Shraddha Kapoor), a journalist.
Saddened by the growing closeness between Ghazala and Khurram, and unable to find any leads, Haider begins to lose hope. However, Arshia encounters a stranger, Roohdar, who asks her to inform Haider that he will be able to provide information about Hilaal. Haider contacts Roohdar (Irrfan), who turns out to be part of a separatist group. Roohdar then narrates the story of how he met Hilaal in one of the detention centers, where they both were tortured. Hilaal attributes his imprisonment to his brother, Khurram. Roohdaar then tells the story of how Haider's father was brutally murdered by Khurram's made-up terrorist group and how Roohdar survived after being shot and thrown into the river with Haider, which stopped his bleeding and allowed him to escape, though Hilaal died. Roohdaar then tells Haider that he simply wanted to pass on his father's message to him: revenge for Khurram's betrayal. Thereafter, angry and swearing to avenge the injustice done to his father, Haider breaks down at Hilaal's grave site and becomes mentally and emotionally shattered. He starts suffering from the effects of a post-traumatic stress disorder, shaving his head and behaving strangely. Khurram, after learning of the meeting between Haider and Roohdar, tells him that Roohdar was the one who killed his father. Haider is now confused as to whom to believe despite knowing the truth himself, and discloses his dilemma to Arshia, adding that Roohdar gave him a gun to kill his uncle. Arshia confides this to her father Pervez, who informs Khurram about the gun. Khurram, at a ceremony related to his marriage with Ghazala, which has now been solemnised, immediately orders his men to corner Haider and send him to a mental institution.
The following morning, Haider is all set to kill his uncle but cannot accomplish it because his uncle is offering prayers and his morals prevent it. Haider is captured by Pervez who orders him to be executed, but Haider manages to escape, although not before mercilessly killing his captors, the Salmans. He contacts Roohdar, who suggests getting trained in Pakistan to avenge his father's death, and Haider agrees. He calls his mother and informs her about it to which she asks him to meet her once before going to the other side of border. During the meeting, Ghazala discloses that she had told Khurram about the terrorists hiding in their house not knowing that he was an informer of the Indian army. Pervez traces them and is about to shoot Haider when Haider shoots him dead and escapes.
Tormented by her father's death at the hands of Haider, Arshia is emotionally traumatized and commits suicide. Meanwhile, Ghazala finds Roohdar's contact number from Arshia's diary and calls him. Haider goes to his pickup point, the graveyard where his father was buried. At the graveyard, Haider contemplates about the universal nature of mortality. On seeing Arshia's brother Liyaqat in the graveyard, he realises that the corpse is of Arshia. He runs towards her body where Liyaqat sees him and informs Khurram. A fight ensues between Haider and Liyaqat, resulting in the latter's death. Khurram arrives with full force and a gunfight ensues; meanwhile Roohdar drops Ghazala at the graveyard. A fierce exchange of bullets and bombs leaves only Haider and few men on Khurram's side alive. Just when Khurram is about to kill Haider, Ghazala pleads for a chance to convince Haider to surrender. She confronts her son who says that he cannot die before avenging his father's death. Ghazala tells him that revenge only results in revenge and there is no end to this cycle, but Haider, who is bent on revenge, does not understand. Ghazala kisses Haider goodbye and steps outside, only to reveal that she is wearing a suicide vest (given to her by Roohdar). Khurram and Haider rush towards her but she pulls the pins of the hand grenade resulting in a big explosion, killing herself along with the rest of Khurram's men and gravely injuring Khurram himself, while Haider is only slightly thrown back from the force of the explosion. Haider goes to his mother's remains, weeps by her side and goes to kill Khurram, whose legs have been severed from his body.
He is reminded of his mother's words that "revenge only results in revenge" and thus decides to let Khurram live. Khurram begs Haider to kill him to free him from the burden of guilt and to avenge his father's death, but Haider doesn't oblige Khurram, instead ignores him and leaves.
Initially, Vishal Bhardwaj and Shahid Kapoor were in talks of making a sequel to their blockbuster film, Kaminey (2009). The project was put on hold and a new project with Kapoor in the lead was confirmed, titled as Haider, which was reportedly based on an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. The adaptation was made to portray the political intrigue and history of Kashmir as well as the play's sexual conflicts. Bhardwaj was initially developing the play as a contemporary espionage thriller with author Stephen Alter. They wrote a 30-page synopsis that was sent to Gulzar. Though Gulzar liked the synopsis but enquired Bhardwaj of the missing tragedy of Hamlet in the penned thriller. The synopsis had incomplete details about the life, authenticity and Official Secrets Act of RAW agents. On his return to India, Bharadwaj's wife Rekha Bhardwaj was reading Basharat Peer's memoir, Curfewed Night, a book based on life in violence-wracked Kashmir. His wife was deeply moved after reading the book. Bharadwaj didn't immediately read the book but was aware about its content. Later, Bhardwaj desired to change the synopsis. Remembering Basharat's book, he contacted him and they started the work. Bhardwaj quoted importance of Basharat in the film as, "If Basharat was not a part of the film, Haider wouldn't be made or it wouldn't be made this way." The film is Peer's first film project. On co-scripting the same, he stated that writing Curfewed Night was a response to caricatures of Kashmiris in Indian political writing whereas he wrote Haider in the same spirit, with the same feeling with Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj and he agonised a lot over the soliloquies required. There were sections of the To be, or not to be speech that was translated directly in Hindi. Due to constraints of time they had to omit the Apparel maketh a man soliloquy though. They retained and translated the section where "Hamlet" meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and speaks about Denmark being in prison. Further, new soliloquies were created to convey "Hamlet"'s madness and the veiled political satire in it. This was brought in when "Haider" with his head shaved, dressed in torn, shabby clothes rants on a traffic roundabout in Srinagar and apart from a few senseless jokes, reads out the bare act of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Apart from this, Peer explained that an adaptation doesn't exactly follow the original, like the part of Fortinbras was barely there in Haider. The world of King Claudius and Polonius is portrayed as the counter-insurgency and government-run, counter-insurgent militias in Haider and thematically dominates the action.
As per the story of the book Hamlet, an Oedipus complex exists that draws "Hamlet" (played by Shahid Kapoor) towards his mother "Gertrude" (played by Tabu) that could have been interpreted both at a physical and psychological level, however, Bhardwaj kept this reference subtle as the target audience was predominantly Indian and called it 'one of the aspects in this mother-son relationship.' In his previous outing of Othello's adaptation, Omkara (2006), he removed the last monologue due to the fact that it was more suited for a stage play sequence but retained that type of monologue for Haider. Shahid Kapoor learnt a six-page monologue for the climatic scene where his character "Haider" turns mad. He put forth the delivery of that monologue in front of a crowd of 5000 listening. For filming the scene, which was done in 3–4 hours, Shahid Kapoor was made completely bald.
Sumit Kaul, who played the character of one of the Salmans, was involved in training the Kashmiri accent of actress Tabu apart from lead actors Shahid and Shraddha. His portions of filming were canned in fifteen days, however, he was with the team for two and a half months in Kashmir. He taught the nuances of the language especially when it translates into English or Hindi.
Kaul also helped actress Tabu get the enunciation when she sang the folk song "Roshe Valle" that was a part of the film score.
"Ghazala is torn between her idealistic husband, opportunistic brother-in-law, and her innocent and passionate son. Somewhere she feels she has the responsibility to keep everything in control but obviously she can't. Her love for her son is crazy. She is always trying to protect him from being misled and misguided. He (Bhardwaj) cast me as Shahid's mother because he wanted the oddity of the relationship to come out which wouldn't have come across with a regular aged mother and son combination. Haider shares a love/hate relationship with Ghazala but it's a very passionate emotion. You almost feel odd that these two are mom and son. Haider's predicament is that he doesn't know what to do with his mother—whether to love her, hate her, believe her, or kill her."
Kapoor, along with Bhardwaj and UTV Motion Pictures, each have a 33.3% share in the film. The budget for the film is ₹390 million (US$6.1 million) taking into account ₹240 million (US$3.7 million) spent into the production of the film and ₹150 million (US$2.3 million) for promotions.
Dolly Ahluwalia has designed costumes for the film. She began working by creating Kashmiri designs of costumes in Delhi. When Vishal Bhardwaj and his film's cinematographer were doing a recce in the valley of Kashmir, she was there to share her creative vision with him. She took her sketches and swatches there. After that, she returned to Delhi and continued with her work there. Instead of picking up costumes easily available in bazaars of Kashmir, she designed the phirans for Shahid Kapoor, hijabs and head scarves for both Shraddha Kapoor and Tabu. Ahluwalia was quoted saying, "Somewhere along the way her husband disappears and she marries his brother who is wealthier than him and this change in marital status is explained through richer colors and fabrics." She added that her real challenge was exploring the psyche of the character "Haider" through colors, textures and cuts. The signs of madness in his character are depicted through the pom-poms in his cap during the track "Bismil" that is a manifestation of the traditional folk dance Dumhal of the Kashmiri valley performed by Wattal tribes. For the costumes seen in climax portions, she was quoted saying, "Against that white snow backdrop I stuck to black and reds to bring out the cold of the human mind through the cold snow and the death of romance in blood red hues."
Haider was shot in two parts. The first schedule was in November–December 2013 and then next in January–February 2014. Keeping the weather conditions in consideration, the first part of the film is shot in Autumn-Winter and the second part featuring intense drama and action sequences under snow. The entire filming was completed in 54 days.
Principal photography began at Dal lake in November 2013. Haider was filmed at Pahalgam, Kehribal area in Anantnag, Mattan, Aishan Sahab Zaina Kadal Bridge in old Srinagar, Nishat Bagh, Dal Lake, Qazigund, Martand Sun Temple, Naseem Bagh (at Kashmir University Garden), Hazratbal and Sonamarg, all of which are located in Jammu and Kashmir Bhardwaj was forced to pack up after a group of Kashmir University students disrupted shooting of a sequence of a Fedayeen attack which was being canned at the University of Kashmir at Hazratbal. The students objected to the hoisting of the national flag atop a makeshift bunker. A few students objected to the shooting of a few scenes and started "pro-freedom" slogans, dismantling the stage. The youngsters also forced them out of the shooting location in Naseem Bagh (Kashmir University Garden) despite heavy security, claiming that they had no idea about the shoot happening on that location. Students of University raised also objection to Irrfan Khan when he was spotted smoking inside the campus. The last schedule of filming for 'Haider' began in Kashmir in January 2014. For the song "Bismil" that was shot at Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir, Shahid Kapoor was quoted saying, "It is one of the best shot songs of my career. The location, the elements like face paint to depict war situations, have been used in 'Bismil'. Then there are 100 feet tall puppets, which I have never seen in any song before." For the choreography Bhardwaj was very keen that Shahid's character didn't have any dance movements that Shahid did in his previous films as it was required for the character's angst and feelings. Bhardwaj recruited a Norway-based choreographer for the choreography of this track. The shooting of the film was also halted briefly for a second time in Zainakadal in Srinagar in January 2014, when a spectator threw coal towards the actors. Filming was completed by 24 February 2014.
After 41 cuts, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) gave the film U/A certificate. The scenes that were censored were a truck load of corpses, wire being inserted inside a naked man, a shot of a bloody dead body, abusive words. Apart from this, a shot of a bare back during the song "Khul Kabhi To" was also considered offensive and censored. The Central Board of Film Certification demanded deletion of a scene where "Haider" (played by Shahid Kapoor) cries on seeing flames. A confusion arose when Kumar along with an examining committee saw the film and prescribed the cuts. After the film was re-edited, instead of sending it to the revising committee for reviewing, Kumar himself watched the film again and gave it a U/A certificate. Nandini Sardesai, a member of the revising committee told The Times of India that Kumar saw Haider twice and passed it with a U/A certificate. She stated that director of the film Vishal Bhardwaj had apparently agreed to the cuts. Later, Bhardwaj clarified that the CBFC only demanded seven cuts but gave his film 35 extra cuts in order to make the script look more realistic. Bhardwaj added that since the film is set in Kashmir and given the associated troubled politics of the state, he knew the film would land in controversies.
The controversy over film's plot, analysts stated that India has become more open to sensitive subjects. Dr. Zakir Hussain, a senior analyst at the Indian Council of World Affairs was quoted saying, "As democratic traditions strengthen in the country, more and more such movies will be made and people will be educated. Haider is the first step in that direction." Director Bhardwaj faced criticism over the depiction of the armed forces in an allegedly unfair way as the film also portrayed scenes of torture in Indian army camps and abuse of human rights by Indian officials. To this portrayal, Indian Twitter users, filled with sentiments brought up hashtagging of words "#BoycottHaider" that generated estimate 75,000 tweets since the film release. In reply to this criticism, people on Twitter started trending #HaiderTrueCinema which trended for 2 days and this caused #BoycottHaider to be withdrawn from the list of trending Topics on Twitter.
The original songs and film score are composed by Vishal Bhardwaj. The soundtrack has nine songs whose lyrics are penned by Gulzar, except for two songs "Gulon Mein Rang Bhare" and "Aaj Ke Naam" that were written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor launched the music of the film along with Vishal Bhardwaj at Radio Mirchi studios in Mumbai by mid-August 2014. The soundtrack had a digital as well as physical release on 15 September 2014. The film score was digitally released on 2 October 2014.
The film received critical acclaim worldwide. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of 6 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.7 out of 10. On Metacritic, the film has an 83 user score based on 15 ratings.
Writing for The Hindu, Sudhish Kamath felt, "Lyricist Gulzar, writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj, and writer Basharat Peer have given us an instant classic, a literary epic (the screenplay is out in the stores too) with a lesson to learn from recent history. Haider is an incredibly brave uncompromising film made with loads of conviction with blatant disregard to market conventions, one that will make you cheer during the meta-moment in the film." Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN called that film an elegant, thrilling one that casts a brave, unflinching eye on the Kashmir struggle. He noted, "In deviating from the original ending of Hamlet, it also makes a necessary point about the cyclical nature of revenge and violence.He gave the movie 4/5 stars" Writing for Deccan Chronicle, Kusumita Das who compared the film to the book summarized, "Considering Hamlet, with all its complexity, is certainly not an easy adaptation to venture into – that alone could well make this Vishal's finest film yet." Mohar Basu of Koimoi detailed out performances, direction, script, editing and screenplay gave the verdict, "Haider is an unforgettable film that never fumbles, never stumbles, and is so sure of itself that it cannot go wrong. From Shahid to Tabu to Kay Kay to the powerful cameo of Irrfan, everything in the film works. It's a Guztaq film that audaciously breaks every rule in the book, everything that you could have expected from it and ends up being that edgy watch which you'll savor, while you watch it from the edge of seats. Haider is Chutzpah and inkeeping with the same vein, I will rate this film the highest I have ever gone with a movie. This is an easy 4.5/5." Critic Subhash K. Jha with immense praise felt, "Haider is a beast that just won't be tamed by regular cinematic definitions. There is flamboyance and subtlety, both at once in the treatment. Elegance and earthiness rub shoulders in the execution of what is regarded as one of Shakespeare's most complex tragedies. Above all, there are the performances – towering, luminous actors craning their collective creative necks into the director's vision, to give it mesmerising magical spin. Mr Bhardwaj's third Shakespearean sojourn is his best yet. Haider is like a painting viewed from the road inside an art gallery. The vision is distant yet vivid, layered life-like and yet exquisitely poetic."
Critic Raja Sen of Rediff gave the film a maximum of five stars and wrote: "Haider is one of the most powerful political films we've ever made, a bonafide masterpiece that throbs with intensity and purpose". Writing for Mid Day, Shubha Shetty-Saha said "Vishal Bharadwaj brings alive the ecstasy, pain and passion of Hamlet on screen, he also reminds us of the harsh truth in our own backyard, the man-made mayhem in the God-made jannat [heaven] that is Kashmir". Faheem Ruhani for India Today praised the Even the oedipal theme between characters played by Shahid Kapoor and Tabu, summarizing his review as, "Haider may seem a bit sluggish in the first half and slightly long. However, it makes up for most of it in the dramatic, intense climax that you are treated to towards the end. Haider is definitely a film you should not miss." Zee News's critic Ritika Handoo reviewed positively, "William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is a masterpiece in literature, and Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Haider' will be talked about in the same vein as one such artistic product in cinematic history. Haider will be recognised as Shahid's career-best performance." Srijana Mitra Das of The Times of India called the film "one of cinema's bravest takes on identity, frightening, yet fun" and particularly praised Tabu's performance whom she considered the prime asset of the film. Sweta Kaushal for Hindustan Times noted, "Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider is a rare Bollywood gem you must watch." Writing for Filmfare magazine, Rachit Gupta felt, "Haider doesn't have an ounce of the commercial thrills and spills that entertain the 100-crore masses. But it does have an undeniable dramatic punch. It is one of the best stories you'll every watch on celluloid. Give this edgy film a chance to entertain you. Because it will do so with aplomb. It's certainly better than the other chutzpah out there." On the contrary, critic Shubhra Gupta at The Indian Express felt the story-telling falters, quoting that, "It is a gorgeous but choppy film that you cannot take your eyes off for fear of losing another exquisite piece of detailing; it is also one that fails to fully keep you with it." Aaj Tak has published a review of the movie by an Indian Army Officer that analyses the movie from a soldier's standpoint. He claims this movie has anti-India pro-Separatist tone which portrays Indian Army in bad light.
Mike McHill of The Guardian wrote, "Radical Indian version of Hamlet gives the story compelling political angles and musical surprises. A palpable hit, in any language." Rachel Saltz of The New York Times titled her critical review as, "Shakespearean Revenge in a Violent Kashmir" emphasizing more on script and directorial aspects, noting, "Haider may not be the equal of Mr. Bhardwaj's other Shakespeare films, and it may be deficient in the "Hamlet" department, but it certainly gives good Gertrude." At The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Tsering was more positive on the film, summarizing, "With Haider, Bhardwaj wisely forgoes the rough-edged attitude in his other films to embrace a slicker and more sophisticated style; and some of the film's most effective moments are masterful in their visual storytelling skill." Writing for Digital Spy, Priya Joshi praised the movie, calling it a 'masterclass in film-making and performance' and 'an exemplary cinema and a work of great artistic merit.' She added, "Shahid Kapoor is a standard-bearer for a generation." Suprateek Chatterjee of the Firstpost praised performances of Shahid Kapoor and Tabu thereby calling Vishal Bharadwaj's film 'best movie so far'. Praising the key aspects of the movie, critic Manjusha Radhakrishnan for Gulf News writes, "Everything about Haider is subtle: including the undertones of the infamous sexual tension between mother and son. Tabu and Kapoor surrender themselves completely to their roles and are endearingly uninhibited. The pace is never hurried, so be a bit patient and give these superbly talented actors a chance. Just like the cinematography that captures Kashmir's rugged beauty, Haider will wow you with its raw appeal." On writing for Emirates 24/7, Sneha May Francis opined, "Haider does appear a little over indulgent, but considering Vishal had such a Herculean task at hand, it's just a small price to pay for good cinema. Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet gets a sinfully delightful adaptation by master filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj". Ryan Gilbey based at New Statesman claimed, "The idea of a Bollywood Hamlet throws up all manner of preconceptions. But Haider transpires to be a far less irreverent interpretation than, say, the 2000 US version in which Ethan Hawke delivered the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from the "Action" section of Blockbuster Video. Bhardwaj relocates the action to Kashmir in the mid-1990s. If the graft doesn't quite take, it's because the film is so persuasive in portraying the oppression of the Kashmiri people that the woes of Hamlet seem small beer."
Haider collected ₹583 million (US$9.1 million) from domestic screens after its third week in theatres.
The film was released in nearly 1250 screens all over India where it collected ₹61.4 million (US$960,000) on its release date (Thursday). The collections showed 14% rise pulling up collections to ₹69.3 million (US$1.1 million) on first Friday and made a cumulative business of ₹131 million (US$2.0 million) in two days of its release at the Indian box office. It collected ₹63.8 million (US$990,000) on first Saturday of release. In the opening three days, the film earned ₹194 million (US$3.0 million).
Taking into account the first weekend post its release, the film earned US$375,000 (equivalent to $379,375 in 2016) in the US. The previews on Thursday, a day prior to release date were US$41,000 (equivalent to $41,478 in 2016). Collections on subsequent two days were US$138,000 (equivalent to $139,610 in 2016) on Friday and US$200,000 (equivalent to $202,333 in 2016) on Saturday. In AGC areas, the film collected US$320,000 (equivalent to $323,733 in 2016) during first three days of release. The collections in UK for the same days were US$94,000 (equivalent to $95,097 in 2016). The film churned a cumulative $1 million in the three days, overseas.