“Highway” is one of the most awaited films of the year as it is directed by Imtiaz Ali. . The film features Alia Bhat and Randeep Hooda in the lead roles. Ali Bhatt has impressed critics with her acting in her second film after making a debut with “Student Of The Year”.
The trailer and songs of the film has already created waves among movie-goers”With Highway, Imtiaz takes the road less travelled and tries something very different from not just his usual style of films but goes ahead to challenge something that we have not seen in Bollywood movies. Abduction paradoxically results in liberation for both the sheltered daughter of a rich industrialist and her hardened-criminal kidnapper in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Although the problem that emerges is that he is not able to hold it together. Forget the reliability factor, the film is way too slow to offer any entertainment. Tracing a journey of self-discovery through six North Indian states without a formal script, Ali’s actors, like his characters, effectively improvise in a meandering present tense, stripped of any viable destination. Opening February 21 following its Berlin Film Festival premiere, Highway should score with Indian audience globally, with art house crossover a distant possibility. A couple of damaged strangers seeking redemption via a road journey is the premise of Imtiaz Ali’s latest ‘Highway’. The director’s attempt to move away from his trademark candyfloss-ness has mixed results: this is perhaps the most picturesque road movie I have seen coming out of Bollywood, but the story struggles with its twin threads and uneven tone. ‘Highway’ is a patchy ride, with the occasional high spot.
Imtiaz gives us a portrait of two damaged souls who, through a journey across north India, help to heal each other. So Veera Tripathi, an affluent Delhi princess who lives in a mansion with a Rolls-Royce, ultimately finds peace in the arms of Mahabir Bhatti, a rough Gujjar criminal, played by Randeep Hooda. The idea of a victim falling in love with her kidnapper isn’t new – the Stockholm Syndrome in which the hostage forms an emotional bond with the abuser has often been cinematic fodder, especially in Hollywood. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali is one of Bollywood’s most original and interesting storytellers.
The film is about Veera Tripati (Alia Bhat) , the daughter of a rich influential man, just about to get married. Veera has been brought up in a ‘protected’ environment and has not been exposed to the real (in more ways than one) world. Veera wants to grab a few moments of freedom and hence she convince her reluctant fiance to take her on a long drive in the middle of the night, just days before they are to get married.
Things take another turn and Veera finds herself kidnapped by Mahabir ( Randeep Hooda) and his cronies. Thus begins Veera’s journey, first uncomfortable then liberated, to various breathtakingly fascinating places of this country, and also within herself. Bound, gagged and thrown in the back of a truck, Veera cries and moans terrified and demoralized by her rough handling. When the gang stops at an empty warehouse, she escapes, racing into the night. Veera Tripathi is a rich, cossetted bride-to-be. And Mahabir Bhatti is a criminalised, uncouth truck driver. This unlikely couple is thrown together, first reluctantly then companionably, for days at a stretch, as they rattle down the highway. They progress from fear to dislike liking to a kind of love, but it’s more a meander, and believability is a casualty
Veera’s flight marks a turning point in the film, as helmer Ali alternates between whirlwind closeups of the character running frantically toward the camera and extreme long shots of her tiny figure amid the infinite salt flats under a vast, star-filled sky. Defeated by the limitless emptiness, Veera runs from whence she came, falling into the arms of Mahabir. The next morning finds the heroine suddenly turned fearless, with no one more surprised by the transformation than Veera herself. But when she starts opening up about herself and the circumstances back home, things start falling into place. There is a mixture of fear, anxiety and relief that laces Veera’s journey with this rough, rustic stranger, Mahabir. Understandably so, because Veera and Mahabir are different individuals. Veera has led a well-cushioned life and lives in the moment, while Mahabir has had more than a rough life and he is caught up in the guilt of his past sins. But their dreams are alike and they seem to belong to one place together. Plunking herself down in the truck’s front seat, she begins to enjoy the trip, her previous family travels having merely transported her from one luxury hotel to another.
Veera’s enthusiasm and artless affection very gradually wear down the gruff Mahabir, despite his hatred of her class. Never entirely abandoning his surly negativity, he allows only an occasional inadvertent smile to reveal his growing attraction. Passion remains totally absent in this romantic equation, which nevertheless surpasses Bollywood’s traditional avoidance of overt sexuality. As it happens, both Veera and Mahabir are haunted by deep childhood sexual traumas. These horrific back stories gain weight and resonance through the characters’ tension-filled accounts, while brief flashbacks reinforce their present-day impact. These demons have left Veera and Mahabir alienated from their pasts — the road, which merely furnishes postcard backdrops for elaborate musical numbers in many Hindi films, is their natural habitat.
Alia Bhatt as Veera is simply outstanding. The one-film-old, young girl plays this complex role with such ease that it is difficult to imagine any other actress doing it so well. This girl definitely has the potential to become a name to reckon with. She has walked past her baby doll cosmetic debut in ‘Student Of The Year’ for a demanding role. Her Veera is effortlessly fresh-faced, absurdly young, scrubbed and vulnerable. But the sense of terror and dread that would make the character credible is never fully present. She displays potential—especially in a harrowing scene in which she tells her companion of a secret that devastated her childhood — but she can’t really convince us that the thread of snot coursing through her tears is not artful. And in other places, she evokes incredulity: a high society Delhi girl in clothes that do not wear any ‘kaajal’ that differs in smudge-size as she rolls about in sand and mud? A body language coach (mentioned in the credits) is not enough: an actor who insists on being taken seriously needs to be able to fit the role completely, and Alia Bhatt falters in many places.
A special mention, of course, has to be made about the amazing music by A.R.Rehman. Thankfully, it is served in the right proportion at the right situations.Aside from a half-hummed song and a spirited solo roadside dance by Bhatt, Rahman’s evocative songs function mainly as inner voices conveying the characters’ unspoken emotions, while their impromptu dialogue (minimal on his part, run-on on hers) attests to their growing familiarity and ease. Rahman’s music, freed from the staginess of intricately choreographed, multi-costumed setpieces, flows sinuously throughout. Highway benefits greatly from Ali’s improvisational approach to every aspect of the production.
Fully justifying the helmer’s faith in an untried actor, Bhatt interiorises a self-realization that is only incidentally romantic, bringing an underlying sadness and wistful intelligence to one of the oldest cliches in the Bollywood playbook: the transformation of a sheltered rich girl through the vital immediacy of her lower-class lover. Anil Mehta’s HD lensing cannily exploits specific landscapes of the varied provinces the film traverses, from Rajasthan’s salt flats to Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains, interpreting them as psychologically resonant topography rather than picturesque travelogue.
The film is Shot on stunning locations spread from Delhi all the way up to the slopes of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, via the plains of Rajasthan and Punjab, the film yields bewitchingly beautiful images. The film belongs unabahedly to alia Bhatt. Her Veera is stunning – sincere and simple, prettily earnest, shakily emotional. Bhatt’s range and prowess are evident in her timid confidence, the slow swagger Veera gains as she takes control of the situation, captivating her captor, confronting assault. “It has many a moment that is endearing and exquisitely etched, but the film is not always engaging enough to be able to offset the occasional inertia that stems from its lack of physical action. Highway dishes out a trip that is definitely worth the price of the ticket
The film’s powerful, yet deliciously subtle script (Imtiaz Ali) attempts to break down the mental walls surrounding our perception and preconceived urban notions of safety, happiness and love. Yes, this film is not about pandering to what you think should happen next, or how one should react under certain circumstances. The script takes its own course: sometimes rough, sometimes uncomfortable, but always exciting. And therein lies the beauty of the film. The most beautiful journeys are almost always the unplanned and unanticipated ones.