Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Rating: Three stars out five
Hey there, a New Delhi bride-to-be is suffering from a bad air day. In the event, she grabs her geeky room-to-be, and vrrrrom they’re headed for the breezeway. Very bad idea. Because, out pop beastly bozos at a petrol refuelling halt, kidnap the girl, plus the geek’s sedan. Off go the beasties, now with the girl and car,wide and afar for a road trip that’s more trick than treat.
Trick? Really, maybe my mind’s playing tricks. But Imtiaz Ali’s 'Highway' is quite redolent of Clint Eastwood’s 'A Perfect World' (the abducted and the abductor bond in the classic style of the Stockholm Syndrome) and Mira Nair’s 'Monsoon Wedding' (shhh, can’t spell that out, because of spoiler alert).
Moreover once upon a time, Patty Hearst’s heart had also melted for her ‘nappers, hadn’t it? Which is to say Mr Ali serves nothing new in his tiffin of crosswired emotions, glorious snow-cloaked mountains (yeah man, boo to those Swiss vistas), and qawwals crooning away at a picturesque rabha dabha. Aah, quite easily redone.
In addition, the bullock-cart tempo, the needless use of low lighting or none at all (girl attempts to escape into the kind of slate-black gloom associated with failing multiplex projectors), not to forget some fantasy cliches like discovering a perfect cabin in the wilderness, like dear Kumar Gaurav-Vijeta Pandit did in Love Story.
The sub-text of the story out here, simmers under the surface, till it boils over angrily. And the acid text is: Rich girls can crave for freedom (danger prevails within the plush home’s interiors, not the exteriors, ‘tis proclaimed) and bad guys can be nice actually, saddled with Oedipal complexes. Thus, a flashback to a lullaby-warbling mother who was nastily treated by pitaji, exact reasons unclear. Oh dear.
So far, so annoying. Now, if I didn’t race out of the audi midway for a road trip back home, it’s because Ali does create a petite heroine of substance. My heart and ticket money went out to Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt). She even admits that she’s silly, not sensible, for preferring the terrifying truck driver Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda) to a lifestyle of luxury. Recalling that expensive holidays mean nothing more than staying within five-star hotel rooms, she has loved communing with nature.
In fact, a scene showing her by a gurgling mountainstream, laughing and wondering what the heck is wrong with her, is brilliant. So are throwaway touches: her hand caressing the wind from a truck’s window, the impromptu boogie to a disco track, her eyes adoring a decrepit haveli. And above all, there’s the finale which because of her vulnerability and belated awareness to the harsh realities of life, brought tears to my eyes. Attagal, Veera, you saved it for me.
Now if you ask me why the central character of Veera is worth a salute, it’s because she’s utterly credible, straight out of Delhi’s Golf Links, although the situations and characters aren’t. This child woman comes of age, thanks to the script which lavishes abundant attention and love on her, at the expense of sidelining the male lead, so to speak.
Mahabir isn’t half-as-interesting, scowling till he finally smiles as if it were a benediction from heaven. As for the rest of the ensemble, including a lovelorn acolyte, a scruffy Gangster of Wasseypur type and Veera’s parents, they’re strictly ho-hum.
Technically classy, courtesy Anil Mehta’s camerawork and Aarti Bajaj’s editing chops (mercy be, the police investigation is dispensed with in a montage), 'Highway' is also remarkable for A. R. Rahman’s inspired music score, the background pieces being a hidden treasure.
With all its pros and cons, here’s one of those films: ponderous enough to encourage a snooze but also with its rewarding side-effects. Needless to emphasise, Veera lingers on in the memory. And Alia Bhatt’s performance is nothing short of extraordinary, especially her solo stanzas of dialogue, executed in long takes.
After 'Student of the Year', she’s a big girl now, and will hopefully be seen in more such demanding roles. Doubtlessly, Imtiaz Ali deserves the credit for extracting the strong performance, as much as he deserves the discredit for reducing Randeep Hooda into a grimacing machine.
Coming now to the hazardous chore of assigning a star rating to Highway, I’m procrastinating between two-and-a-half and three stars (solely because of Veera/Alia Bhatt). Let me toss a coin, then. Tails, two-and-a-half. Heads, three. See result above.