Haddi, directed by first-timer Akshat Ajay Sharma, follows a goon who goes by ‘Haddi’ (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whose other persona is a trans woman. This blood-soaked revenge drama (streaming on Zee5) unfolds in and around Delhi and Noida, in dark, lonesome alleys and a grim underbelly populated with corrupt politicians, the immoral, unlawful and marginalised.
The film starts with a promise and a threat rolled into one, delivered portentously by a voice and a close up of a hand sharpening a bloody machete. A man on a mission lands up in Delhi and quickly gets inducted into a gang. He works his way up into the illegal trade of cadavers and valuable bones by showing his willingness to maim, kill, work—no questions asked.
It’s clear from the set up that Haddi’s journey into goon-turned-politician Pramod Ahlawat’s coterie is anything but circumstantial. Ahlawat (Anurag Kashyap) runs a macabre business of bone trading. He’s heartless and unhinged. Kashyap plays the character with a touch of madness which, as fun as it is to watch the performance, makes for a confusing character. For a moment one wonders whether Sharma intended for his debut vehicle to be a black comedy, but it becomes evident that Ahlawat’s character and Kashyap’s rendition are emblematic of consistent tonal vagaries and variances, as also displayed by Vipin Sharma’s character Bibek Mitra, Ahlawat’s right hand.
Haddi’s other persona, Harika, is a trans woman who has lost her love, her guardian Revathy amma (Ila Arun) and her adopted family to Ahlawat’s brutality and avarice. There is no revelation here. From the start there are several indicators as to who is who and what for.
What the story (written by Sharma and Adamya Bhalla) does unwrap is Haddi’s focus on reaching Ahlawat and how Haddi navigates between the powerful, the sycophants and the subordinates. The ancillary characters—Jogi (Saharsh Shukla), Chunna (Shridhar Dubey), Satto (Rajesh Kumar)—were potentially more interesting. Their gender and sexuality are ambiguous, even as they cross dress to dupe and rob customers. And then there’s their boss Inder (Saurabh Sachdeva), whose ambition drives a wedge within the core team.
Sharma’s film feels like an homage to all his idols, including mentor Kashyap who Sharma assisted on a number of feature films. There’s also an unquestionable Quentin Tarantino-inspired Western fight sequence, cut to a thumping score, observed by a villain who is wearing headphones and playing air drums, tuning out the bloodbath and screams around him.
As a person who claims their identity, albeit through physically painful means, Siddiqui maintains femininity. Whether as Harika or as Haddi, he slightly thrusts his waist, has the tiniest hint of a pout and gracefully flicks a wrist. Watching the transition of a man to her new, true identity is painful. This sequence brings to light the determination as well as physical, emotional and psychological exhaustion.
There are some genuinely tender moments between Harika and her lover Irfan (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub). This track, with Ayyub playing the part with such subtlety, was deserving of a more complex conclusion. And activist Irfan merited more agency.
For all its strong suits—themes of identity, gender, revenge, bone trade, Siddiqui’s performance—Sharma’s Haddi is a film of excesses, overuse of music, overly moody lighting, endlessly bloody, overtold and caught out by superfluity.