Imtiaz Ali’s much awaited Highway, starring Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt is poignant story and a visual feast that met and exceeded expectations. This was one occasion where high expectations did not result in an anticlimactic letdown; the film is an ode to the beauty of our country; the tale of a relationship between two seemingly disparate but similarly scarred individual. It is a story about trust and an unshakable faith and a reluctant love set amidst such spectacular scenery that it literally makes one weep.
Rating – ****
Highway Review – Release Date 21st February 2014
Starring – Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt
Production– Sajid Nadiadwala, Imtiaz Ali
Director – Imtiaz Ali
Story/Screenplay – Imtiaz Ali
Cinematography – Anil Mehta
Music – A R Rahman
Highway – Review
Right from the opening credits of the film, the viewer is besieged by a strong case of wanderlust as the camera meanders around narrow mountain roads, untidy North Indian towns and eucalyptus lined canal roads. The story is that of Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) who is in the throes of preparing for her marriage to Vinay. She just wants to get away from it all for a while and asks her fiancé to take her for a long drive on a cold winter’s night. They stop at a petrol pump; turns out they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some crime is evidently in progress; the goons make off with Veera almost by the way.
Soon the thugs realise that it’s the daughter of a very powerful man whom they have kidnapped. A ransom demand is not possible, but Mahabir Bhati the ring leader refuses to hand back the kidnapped girl. It is clear that the thugs have to leave before they are set upon by the police so the story gets on the road. From Delhi, the group of thugs with a kidnapped girl in a truck, travel to the starkness of the salt pans of Sambhar (India’s largest salt lake) and to the winding lanes and plaintive voices at the Dargah of Ajmer. Later the film showcases some stunning landscapes in Himalachal and Kashmir.
The scenery is spectacular throughout the film. I don’t ordinarily speak of cinematography simply because I don’t know much about what it entails; but I am moved to wax eloquent in this instance. The camera lingers so lovingly on the now lush, now stark white, now frozen, now forbidding landscape that one is riveted throughout.
On the face of it, the emotional interplay is between the rich girl looking to breakout and a sinister, cold, unfeeling thug. Slowly though we are introduced to the layers of those two individuals – the rustic, hard-bitten character played by Hooda has a bitterness born out of poverty and desperation. Alia’s character comes from money and her naivety is born of privilege but the two individuals are rather similar underneath all this – they have both endured unhappiness and trauma in their childhood.
The relationship is the Stockholm Syndrome but more besides. For Veera, this is a journey of self discovery and there are several moments when she introspects about how and why she became a willing participant in her own abduction. For whatever reason she forms a deep attachment to her captor; an attachment firmly rooted in an unshakable trust. Repeatedly we get that feeling that this is a relationship based on trust, perhaps an unreasonable trust but trust nonetheless.
The victim feels safe with her captor; paradoxically she is freer with him than ever before and therefore chooses to be with him. He is the one who will get her the metaphorical house on the hill that she craves. She doesn’t want to go back to her life; she doesn’t want the journey to end either – here the road is a metaphor of life itself.
For his part, the seemingly ruthless thug is drawn to his victim’s vulnerability and the unquestioning faith reposed in him. His response is reluctant but inevitable. We frequently see him looking at her as though to say “tu cheez kya hai!” as if he cannot quite believe what he sees.
The camera lingers lovingly on the landscape; the characters on the other hand are shorn of all glamour and artifice – so the real hero in the film is the highway – as it is meant to be. Hooda’s understated silences and infrequent outbursts as the lowly thug are superbly executed. Alia Bhatt is a revelation – her vulnerability, her moments of self discovery, the angst, her unshakable trust – she rendered these so beautifully that we now know that she is going to be the girl to watch in times to come.
Highway – Music
I could say, it’s A R Rahman and just leave it at that! The music is, as expected, perfectly apposite to the movie, its visuals and its emotions; another triumph from the maestro. Some stunning use is made of folk music. Patakha Guddi is of course the pick of the lot – it is the sort of song (sung so marvelously by the Noora Sisters) that you can hear on loop dozens of times (I confess I have) and simply not get tired of it.
Maahi Ve in Rahman’s own voice is soulful and the music lingers long after it has faded. Tu Kuja is another marvelous song, fabulously sung and overlying a vital and poignant scene in the film. Wanna mash up is song that features one of the funniest and most endearing scenes in the film – where Veera breaks into impromptu dance when she is presented with her favorite CD and whereupon the thug’s sidekick Alu proceeds to match her step for step and Hooda’s glacial countenance melts into a reluctant thaw.
I do strongly recommend Imtiaz Ali’s Highway this weekend. He more than delivers on the promise of his earlier films Rockstar, Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal.
By – Reena Daruwalla