Written by Souranath Banerjee.
My Ratings: 4/5.
Recently saw director Imtiaz Ali‘s latest film Highway. A good experience – full of emotions and genuine performances.
But before probing into the film’s story-structure lets consider these two archetypes:
Story No 1. – You probably know the story of the princess who gets bored living the mundane, affluent life in her palace. She feels confined and skeptical about marrying the stereotype prince and all she wishes is to experience the real world. In the bizarre realm of cinema these kind of adventurous wishes are promptly granted and before you know it (or rather she knows it) our beloved princess gets sucked into the wicked but exciting, sometimes too-real-to-handle vortex of a thrilling new life. Least assured she has the excitements of a lifetime and almost invariably finds the love of her life (generally a common man with sharp features who is largely responsible for keeping her safe from the bad, bad world through out her adventure).
This story version is very popular in Hollywood and two best examples are Princess Jasmine from animated feature Aladdin (1992), Rose in Titanic (1997).
Story No 2. – This time a different story but I am sure you know this one as well. A girl and a boy (specifically a rich girl and a poor boy) who are forced by certain unforeseen/unavoidable circumstances to stay together in very close proximity for long enough till they fall in love. These two must have dissimilar backgrounds and social class, contrast features and habits, different upbringings – the more incompatible the better! They should loathe each other at the start but finally they will be all sticky in love. Then it’s time for the parents to interfere. Usually the rich girl’s parents are more of a pain in the ass and the film ending totally depends on them – if they accept the good-for-nothing guy then it’s a love story (99% times that’s the case) but if they reject him (the other 1%), then it’s a tragedy.
This story version is extremely popular in Bollywood and two prominent examples are Raj and Simran in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Raghu and Pooja in Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991).
Well, now bake these above two stories (the primary ingredients) and you have the base prepared. Now to make it smell different add the concept of Stockholm syndrome (where the kidnapped person falls for his/her kidnapper) and delicately sprinkle some sensitive issues of childhood trauma.
Highway is ready to serve.
Looks like an easy dish to prepare but I assure you it’s not. Only expert chiefs with the caliber and imagination of Imtiaz Ali can bring such unique flavors, where the actors and their emotions are marinated to perfection.
Brilliant performances – Alia Bhatt is so natural and spontaneous; she has managed to eclipse a much senior and gifted actor Randeep Hooda (Randeep has also done justice to his character but perhaps a bit less-utilized). The decision to cast Alia for the role was the trump and it really paid off (Imtiaz wasn’t that lucky in his earlier film Rockstar when he casted Nargis Fakhri in the lead role).
In a nutshell Highway is all about this fun-loving, rich, ‘bride-to-be’, young girl Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) – what happens when her life takes a wretched turn as she gets kidnapped by a crude, merciless criminal Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda) – and finally how this unfortunate event changes her – she experiences love, her dreams come true and she learns to see the world from a different perspective.
Oscar winning composer A.R.Rahman‘s soulful music is skillfully weaved throughout the film to smoothen the bumps on the highway. (Thankfully not a single abrupt/forced song sequence added).
The attractive highway sequences seen mostly from the point of view of a moving vehicle (the truck) are always layered by the humming of the truck-engine to give the audience a feel of being a part of the journey. Excellent sound designing throughout the film – thanks to Amrit Pritam Dutta and the Oscar winning sound designer Resul Pookutty.
No high-end camera rigs used, no artificial lights (in most of the shots), very less use of make-up for the actors, no extreme image manipulation in the post-production; credit goes to the cinematographer Anil Mehta who still managed to make the film look classy.
Two emotional sequences worth mentioning – one of Alia crying and laughing at the same time as she let herself go and the other one where Mahabir cries watching Veera making food and cleaning their new home in the mountains, very touchy and superb performances by the actors.
A scenic journey through Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, seat back and enjoy the emotional love story of Veera and Mahabir as they hit the highways.
Highway is a film that will engage you, entertain you and in a certain level make you uncomfortable.
P.S – A note of comparison: There’s the scene where Veera confronts her uncle in front of other family members – she accuses him of abusing her when she was nine years old. I feel that Mira Nair handled the same kind of situation in her film Monsoon Wedding (2001) much better when the child abuser (played by Rajat Kapoor) gets accused by the victim (played by Shefali Shetty).