Not Exactly a Highway Review

highway-poster
Highway
Release date: February 21, 2014
Directed by: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda

This isn’t an outright review of Highway. Then why have I started this post just like a review? Because that’s how I wanted it to be. In this absurd sabbatical of sorts, I’ve seen Hasee Toh Phasee and Gunday. HTP was an incredibly enjoyable film and Parineeti Chopra surely showed off all her talents. Then Gunday had so much promise even for a slambang masala entertainer, but it didn’t live up to it.

Why am I writing about other films in a post about Highway? Just to let my all-so-important opinions stay etched here, if either of those two films gets featured on the Best100 or Worst100.

Imtiaz Ali’s films, except for Jab We Met, have left me disappointed. I always witness a graph, a potential for greatness, but the eventual mishmash of umpteen ingredients has left me slighted every time. Entering the cinema hall for Highway had me on the fringe already, I wasn’t expecting a completely perfect film at all.

So Highway starts off with footage from a personal wedding videotape, Veera (Alia Bhatt) is about to get married. From one influential family to the other, that’s how she feels about her marriage. She asks her fiance to take her out for a secret drive. She wants to breathe in the country. During their ride back home, at a petrol pump, she ends up getting tagged along with [kidnapped by] Mahabeer Bhati (Randeep Hooda) and his gang.

Mahabeer has unknowingly picked her up. Like a true Jat (or more like an internetphile defending all his self-righteous views), he defends his mistake. His first mark is that of a hardened criminal who is remorseless and unflinching in even firing a bullet just to make a point. Mahabeer and Veera are different like chalk and cheese. But even chalk and cheese are connected by a thin lineage of calcium and its compounds. Calcium here is a central theme of trauma.

Highway uses the Stockholm Syndrome gimmick only to an extent. There is a reciprocation of those feelings by the captor here. Alia’s character is given the Manic Pixie Dream Girl treatment initially, but thankfully her character shows some purpose and a sense of importance eventually. I was pleasantly surprised by the absence of any song-dance numbers in the first half of the film. Running just about an hour, the before-interval is extremely taut.

Veera’s confession of her demons and fears didn’t evoke the expected emotions from me, as she keeps doing shocking 180 degree turns, coming off as unstable and unsettled. Which was then resolved by the scene where she says to him, “Jahaan se tum mujhe laaye ho main wahaan vaapas nahin jaanaa chaahti. Jahaan bhi le jaa rahe ho wahaan pahunchna nahi chaahti. Par ye raasta, ye bahut achcha hai, main chaahti hun ki ye raasta kabhi khatam na ho.” –this was the point where she emits clarity. From this point onward, it was all Alia for me.

A common complaint that I have with almost 90 per cent of love stories in cinema, to which Silver Linings Playbook is a rare exception, is that the said love between the characters isn’t allowed to flourish, nurture or grow. And I noticed this complaint being raised against Highway as well, to which I strongly disagree. The latent attraction here between the protagonists isn’t physical, it doesn’t harbor on sex slavery, it’s just simple. Simply human. Veera talks to Mahabeer like no one else ever has. No matter how disturbing it may be for him, it captivates him nonetheless.

The use of montages to create a backstory or sympathy at times comes off jarring at first, but the final one, with Veera and Mahabeer’s pasts striding down the hills together is purely moving. The visual imagery of the Himalayas, the barren deserts, and the infinite roads is awe-inspiring, Anil Mehta finely captures them along with Randeep’s scruffy appearance and Alia’s complexity.

For me, what matters more in a film is its ability to make you weep/wail or even just feel a lump in your throat than its ability to make you smile. Unquestionably, making viewers laugh is a Herculean task in itself, and making them cry might even be easier owing to their lowered inhibitions in the darkness of a cinema hall. Highway did both the things for me. Even in a moment where you’re supposed to cry, you won’t help smiling (re: final shot of the film). Again, this wasn’t purely a review. Don’t piss on me if I’ve divulged any vital plot points inadvertently.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

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