SRIMOYEE T PHUKAN feels Imtiaz Ali hits fresh terrains with his new film Highway
For someone who had always been undecided about Imtiaz Ali’s talent as a filmmaker, his latest offering, Highway, sure trumps me. I had loved Jab we Met, fidgeted through Love Aaj Kal and suffered Rockstar. So I decided to go with no expectation from this one, and came gushing out of the theatre!
Highway is essentially a ‘road film.’ And like any road film, the ‘journey’ is the ‘purpose’ in this one too. Having said that you are hardly in for the sunny bonhomie that is usually the backbone of such films. This one is about two individuals from starkly different social spectrums of Delhi-NCR coming together; Of Veera (Alia Bhatt), the daughter of Highway’s Ambani, getting kidnapped by a gang of criminals led by Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda), while Veera goes on a little spin with her fiancée over a night of her wedding preparations. Veera’s innocent attempt at breaking free from the suffocating brocades and diamonds, lands her in the seedy colonies of the criminals. Realizing that a ransom call to her dad would invite trouble, Mahabir decides to go into hiding with Veera and his quarry. But since no hide-out seems safe enough, it lays the ground for a ‘Bharat Darshan’ of sorts as the camera moves with you through stunning landscapes of Sambhar, Ajmer, Bikaner, Faridkot, Rampur, Kaza, Pahlgam and Aru.
In that sense the breathtaking landscape works like a character in the film. What happens in the process is anybody’s guess. The inevitable Stockholm syndrome kicks in and it stirs the love angle between Veera and Mahabir. Agreeably till this point the film offers the usual fare. However, the movie stands out on accounts of its defiantly unconventional silences, the disarmingly simple dialogues that are airily spoken, Imtiaz’s exceptional craft with confounded lovers (in his earlier films too), the movie’s quiet purpose, it’s zen-like serenity, and humor, when it is least expected. It also makes a statement with a heroine who is not the run-of-the-mill damsel in distress: Veera, walks, does not slouch, comments on the tea she drinks with the bandits, and dances on the highway like she owns it. She eats heartily and makes no bones about riding through difficult terrains. But Mahabir’s unrelenting hatred towards Veera, who is nothing more than a ‘consignment’ to him till he gives in; and Veera’s effortlessly falling for Mahabir cannot go without back stories. The stories are comments on exploitation of women that cuts across class, raising pertinent questions on women’s safety in feudal communities, and the safety of the girl child in seemingly safe homes.
The first half however can distract the impatient viewer for its lack of action with the pace dropping. The second half brings with it the much needed physical action in the lookout for the kidnapped daughter. The only time in Highway when the editing seems jarring is when Veera opens up emotionally to Mahabir out of the blue, but Alia’s convincing performance makes it easier to overlook. The story of Highway is wielded beautifully through A. R. Rahman’s music that enhances the breathtaking visuals. Hooda proves to be the perfect casting not just to offset Alia’s charming looks, but to convincingly play the wayward criminal. Despite this, Alia is likely to walk away with all the limelight with her surprisingly good performance for a second film. With Highway she sure has arrived.
But for me this film is Imtiaz Ali’s triumph. It carries the unmistakable Imtiaz Ali brand of romance which evokes the mystical. He indulges in romance but doesn’t fall for affectations. He hits fresh terrains with a road film that has lot to be proud of. However, as a cautionary remark I do want to remind you of the silences and occasional slow pace of the film which might leave the restless tad bit impatient. But the helpless romantics are sure to heave and sigh heavy as the camera meanders through enchanting locales and savor the stretched silences. If you are little too spoilt, the overpowering vastness of the deserts and the mystical mountains could get the better of you and get you weeping and sobbing by the end of it like I did, leaving the husband visibly disturbed. I am going with a four star for Imtiaz’s Highway that takes a refreshing detour from the beaten path. I say take the Highway, it will be a memorable get-away this weekend.