Cast: Alia Bhatt,Randeep Hooda
Direction: Imtiaz Ali
Is this Imtiaz Ali’s best film till date? While the answer to that is open to debate and discussion, there is no doubt that ‘Highway’ is Ali’s boldest film. He makes no concessions in his storytelling, he doesn’t attempt to play to the gallery and he definitely doesn’t try to adhere to any Bollywood formula.
Right at the onset when we see preparations are underway for an impending wedding, there isn’t a colourful song-and-dance number covertly inserted into the plot. Instead the scenes play out like a home video, handheld shots taken by a video camera that probably wasn’t even high-definition.
The abduction is not premeditated but once it’s done we have no option but to flee. Our road trip is initially through the arid, dusty roads of North India. The landscape is much like the relationship between the captor and the hostage – a strange apathy emanating from the barren lands.
When Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) is held hostage, the director plays with the light and shadow, her face like a blank sheet of paper, reacting spontaneously to this unexpected situation. We see silhouettes of the captive girl desperate to make a dash for freedom. Veera soon realizes that escape is impossible,giving-up on her futile attempts, she returns collapsing in the arms of her oppressor.
And then there is a real chance for Veera – why doesn’t she seize this opportunity? It’s inexplicable why she won’t grasp this quick release? Surely,it can’t be for some twisted romantic notion? And a layer peels off, revealing an undisclosed incident that had left our young protagonist bruised and broken.
In this battered truck she feels more secure than she had ever done in the confines of her protected home. Incomprehensibly she has found safety with a brash truck driver.
Randeep Hooda with his weather-beaten, rugged face and speaking the Gujjar dialect is every bit Mahabir Bhati of ‘Highway’. It’s amazing how Hooda manages to blend the ruthlessness of a brazen abductor with the vulnerability of a man who might be a criminal but is still capable of possessing very human emotions.
After Nargis Fakhri in ‘Rockstar’, I had become a little circumspect of Imtiaz Ali’s casting decisions. But after having watched ‘Highway’, I can’t think of anyone who could essay Veera and Mahabir’s role better than Alia and Randeep.
Alia’s exudes an innocent charm as Veera. Even without a hint of make-up, her battered face emanates a certain glow. While at the onset, she seems to struggle a bit with her monologues; she evolves as the film progresses to belt out a solid performance. Alia is brilliant in a scene where she is sitting by the river and doesn’t know why she is laughing – she laughs and cries, possibly overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation.
Veera doesn’t have a plan but she wants to be a part of the journey for a little while longer. Aren’t we all so obsessed with the destination, that we often fail to enjoy the beauty of the journey?
In a particular scene before the climax Mahabir has a meltdown when he looks at his temporary home – Randeep’s restrained portrayal is commendable. You look at his character and you realize that he knows that he is too far gone to hope for any kind of redemption. The normalcy of a house and family is an illusion, which he is incapable of even beholding for a little while.
The two of them belong to two very different worlds. There is no way of merging the world of the haves and the have-nots and the director doesn’t even attempt it.
When you look closer at the backstory, you wonder how different really is their world? Poverty keeps the poor silent and the rich have to hide behind the veneer of affluence and normalcy they have created for themselves.
And beneath this façade we suppress the problems that plague every society.Issues of sexual abuse get swept under the carpet, irrespective of class. We are taught to be careful outside but no one prepares us from sexual predators at home.
Imtiaz Ali was considered an ace storyteller when it came to spinning romantic tales. With ‘Highway’ Ali brandishes his craft with flourish and style, even though this is no linear love story.
A R Rahman’s music is a tad disappointing. While ‘Pathaka Guddi’ kicks in as a reprieve from the taut pace of the first half, the song when Veera is trying to flee just doesn’t work. I was expecting a nice qawwali number when they make a brief halt in Ajmer but there was none.
The costume design by Aki Narula is excellent. It’s a welcome change to see our heroine don oversized sweaters and pajamas and not sashay around in chiffon sarees.
It breaks your heart when you hear the sound of the gun pierce the tranquil and peace of the surrounding. You almost hear a silent tear roll down as we watch with bated breath.
This Imtiaz Ali film deserves not just loud applause but a standing ovation.
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