Anyone who has tagged Imtiaz Ali as a maker of big Bollywood blockbusters is in for a surprise with Highway.The RockStar and Love Aaj Kal director’s first foray into digital filmmaking sees him use a documentary-style aesthetic. The result is a stylish two-hander that is defiantly unconventional, if not entirely satisfying. But it isn’t just the visual and auditory delights on offer that make Highway a sensitive, understated entertainer. Its two exceptional characters sway to the kind of subtle emotional riffs that usually elude mainstream Hindi cinema. But that is not to say that Highway is anywhere near perfect. It has many a moment that is endearing and exquisitely etched, but the film is not always engaging enough to be able to offset the occasional inertia that stems from its lack of physical action.The director’s attempt to move away from his trademark candyfloss-ness has mixed results: this is perhaps the most picturesque road movie I have seen coming out of Bollywood, but the story struggles with its twin threads and uneven tone. ‘Highway’ is a patchy ride, with the occasional high spot. It is a film about nature and travel; about a meandering journey without a definite destination. It is purely incidental that two interesting characters find themselves while traversing this ever-changing array of bewitching landscapes. It is also precisely why this couple is even more visible, more relatable and less contrived, despite their unlikely circumstances. The focus is not entirely on them, they just happen to be there.
STORY & SCREENPLAY : In an interview last year, Imtiaz Ali said he didn’t have a script when he set out to make “Highway“. All he had was a one-line draft and he wrote the film during the shoot. What you get is a complete departure from Ali’s usual fare – a film that is as pristine as some of the locations it is shot in; almost meditative in parts and wonderfully understated. It adopts a novel mode to address issues pertaining to the class and culture divide, the exploitation of women in feudal communities, and the safety, or lack of it, of the girl child within and without the family. Imtiaz Ali litters the narrative with little touches that speak of human connections in ways that are disarmingly simple but effective. The story is simple enough. Veera (Alia Bhatt) is the daughter of an influential man who is kidnapped after a freak incident at a lonely petrol pump two days before her wedding. Her kidnapper is Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), a brooding contract killer with a troubled past. Taken out of the world she has known all her life, Veera is at first disoriented, then bewildered, and takes her time coming to terms with her situation. When she does, the façade of her seemingly normal, privileged existence comes crumbling down, much to Mahabir’s surprise. The biggest achievement of “Highway” is that there is never any compulsion to label the relationship between the two characters – you could call it an unconventional romance, a strong friendship.
STARCAST : The ever-dependable Randeep Hooda delivers a solid performance. A measure of his confidence in his craft is provided by the restraint that he brings to the characterisation, never seeking to get ahead of the plot. He manages to deliver a restrained performance and not overdo it for the sake of capturing more attention. Randeep Hooda has backed up the flick with a staggering performance and sketches the rugged Mahabir’s volatile personality with remarkable subtlety. A scene where he breaks down when he sees a life he cannot own is the most poignant. Alia Bhatt is a revelation. She responds to the demands of the role with all the skill at her disposal, nailing both the vulnerability and the tenacity of a harried but spirited ingénue. Her Veera is effortlessly fresh-faced, absurdly young, scrubbed and vulnerable. Although there are a few slip-ups along the way, for most parts she has fairly stood her ground.She has captured Veera’s emotional upheavals, her childish quirks and stubbornness with earnestness.It’s her impromptu jig with her captor Aaddoo in the middle of a rocky road that’s the most endearing.She also nails the scene that exploits Veera’s desperation and subsequent breakdown as she fails to discover anescape route despite being challenged by her abductors.
TECHNICAL FINESSE : The biggest asset of the movie is its technical finesse for which credit must go to Imtiaz for choosing the perfect crew & extracting the best out of them. The music for the flick has been composed by the maestro, A.R.Rahman who has given some of the most soothing & melodious tracks. Sound design by Resul Pookutty, plays a major role in making this film a mini-vacation, a calming experience for its viewers. The background score is minimal; moments are not punctuated with annoying cues, instead letting the performances do the talking (or no talking). The cinematographer Anil Mehta’s lovely, unfussy images ground the film and show us a good bit of India. (It was shot in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir). The cinematography is plush and passionate & makes the visuals an occasion for optical enchantment. The movie has been edited by Aarti Bajaj who has kept the running time of the movie to 133 minutes but i personally feel that lot of scenes could have been edited as far as their duration is concerned. As a director, Imtiaz Ali has again excelled who through this movie has tried to portray that : when the home and the world feel like a cage, the wide open road, no matter where it leads, is a surefire path to liberation. Imtiaz Ali articulates this thought with a sense of quiet purpose, and with Zen-like serenity.
CONCLUSION : Highway is a sprawling stretch of splendour, created by a director who shoots every frame in a painter’s vein but At the end we are left with a deeply dissatisfying film whose very incompleteness lends a sense of beauty to the narrative. It is a totally character driven movie which will appeal to a certain section of audience but it is a must watch for cinema connoisseurs.
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