Movie Review: Highway

February 21, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

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.

The journey should influence you, he said, adding that is what should drive the film — not a pre-written script. This rather unusual method of filmmaking seems to have yielded unexpected results.

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.

Be warned though, if you are a fan of Ali’s previous works, this film may not immediately appeal to you. The movie is about his two main characters and Ali doesn’t allow too many things to distract from the main story, even using A R Rahman‘s haunting score discreetly. There are stretches where there is no background music or dialogue; and yet, the film never feels like it is dragging.

The story is simple enough. Veera (Alia Bhatt), the daughter of an influential man, is kidnapped 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.

Her confession to Mahabir just before the half-way mark in the film is rather abrupt, and you wonder why she is opening up about her deepest fears to a man who has every intention to harm her. But Bhatt manages to make the scene credible and her character’s vulnerability shines through. Ali chooses to never over-dramatize the proceedings.

The journey thereafter takes the road less travelled, moving from the arid landscape of Rajasthan to the hilly climes of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Veera and Mahabir sense a thaw in their relationship, one that is depicted rather poignantly in a scene where he asks her what she wants to achieve by continuing on the journey with him.

Does she want to marry him? Have kids? You hope sincerely that the answer isn’t predictable – one that most other Bollywood films would have scripted. It is not.

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, or a case of the Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever it is, Ali doesn’t say. He leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

The narrative is helped immensely by some breathtaking cinematography by Anil Mehta, and stellar performances by the cast. Both Hooda and Bhatt are perfectly suited to their roles, but of the two, it is Bhatt who steals the thunder.

She is at once vulnerable, childish, and then fierce. The scene in the climax would have been difficult for seasoned actresses to pull off, but Bhatt does it with more than enough conviction.

For her, and for some unadulterated filmmaking which we don’t see too often, make it a point to watch this one.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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