You must have been on a highway at sometime in your life or another. The air is pure, the atmosphere serene. And just as you’re enjoying a comfortable ride, you have to veer to the side to avoid a pothole. You are relieved and you resume your journey, only this time you are vigilant and wary. The air is still pure however, the atmosphere still serene. This sums up my Highway experience.
Imtiaz Ali’s latest venture takes you on a journey with two unsettled souls who meet by chance and make a change forever. Exhausted by her wedding preparations, rich (though not spoilt) Veera goes on a ride with her reluctant fiancée. On the way back, they stop for fuel at a petrol pump. In a matter of a few gunshots she is taken hostage by a gang of robbers led by one Mahabir (Randeep Hooda). The director wastes no time on lavish wedding shots and comes to the central theme of the movie. Upon realizing the influence and power her father wields, the gang leaders refuse to take responsibility. Mahabir, along with his close aides, binds and gags her, puts her in the back of a truck and then starts the road trip. Things seem to be going as one would expect when all of a sudden everything falls in place too quickly. Veera gets comfortable with her kidnappers. Her first monologue leaves you laughing and loving her. After a while she even manages to get emotionally closer to her captors. She fights with her kidnappers for the front row seat, and wins. At one point she breaks into a dance on the middle of the road, and we are as shocked as Mahabir. And that is where the smooth ride ends and one starts to watch with care.
Highway depends a lot on its protagonists who perform their roles with sincerity. Bhatt completely walks out of her Student of the Year image and gives Veera everything. She amazes you with her expressions, amusing responses and the emotional monologues which attract you to her character. During one scene she perches atop a rock by a rushing stream, laughs (a lot), then cries and then laughs again. She is unable to figure out her life and the recent incidents which have transformed it. Alia is Veera in every scene. Hooda does justice with Mahabir, but speaks to himself sometimes. We are scared of him in the beginning and yet feel sympathetic long before the end credits start rolling. The harsh and rude Mahabir impresses now and then but the character is not well developed. He is a mafioso with morals but these traits come and go at Veera’s will. He smiles for the first time just when we thought he would convince her to go. With the focus on Veera, the other characters do not get enough support from their actors to appear equally attention-worthy. We see the movie through Veera’s eyes. ‘Aise lag raha hai jaise main yahan hun hi nahi, jaise koi movie chal rahi hai aur main dekh rahi hun’, as she says.
Imtiaz Ali has definitely given the audience something new to look at. He has very ably used the power of silence to give us something from his heart. Imtiaz seems to have made made Highway for himself. Unlike in ‘Jab We Met’ or ‘Rockstar’, here he appears to make no attempt to please the crowd. The most remarkable performance in Highway though comes from behind the camera as cinematographer Anil Mehra captures both the emotions and the beautiful locations superbly. He does not let the breathtaking locations get ahead of the story and ensures that we leave the hall with both aspects of the imagery. A.R. Rahman’s music certainly adds to the movie’s soul, but is not as consistent as one would be accustomed to expect from him.
With all its fallacies, Highway nonetheless remains a must watch. Bollywood filmmakers rarely if ever break stereotypes and come up with something without the dhikchik dhikchik. Rarely do they come up with a story where the male and female protagonists are not related and yet at no point in the story do they fall in ‘love’. Dodge the potholes, or speed past them, but go watch Highway!
You can also read about Highway’s music here.