The good news about Highway is that calling the film a visual stunner would be an understatement. From the salt pans of Rajasthan, to the mustard fields of Punjab, the terraced houses and monasteries of Himachal Pradesh and the breathtakingly beautiful snow-capped mountains of Kashmir, every frame in Highway is a treat. Director Imtiaz Ali, who attempts a departure from his usual conversation-driven romantic comedies, maintains the serenity of the scenery by using silence as a strong device. It comes as a relief that there is a lot left unsaid in Highway, quite a rarity in Bollywood movies. Add to it the soulful background score by A.R. Rahman and you know that there is very little chance that this one can go wrong. But there is bad news, too. Too much of anything is bad and a film requires more than a few beautiful shots to make it work. After a point, you get so overwhelmed by all the beauty that you stop caring about the characters or the story. And by the end of the road movie-cum-coming of age drama, you plea
d like the protagonist Veera does in the
film saying, “bas thoda aur…”
Highway is, essentially, based on a cliched theme of a sheltered rich girl, Veera (Alia Bhatt), finding freedom and meaning in life through the strange places and people she meets on her journey with her kidnappers. The realisation that dawns on Veera about how life is much more than all the fake ettiquette and materialistic comforts she grew up around is also quite predictable. And, although he has shifted gears in terms of genre, Ali’s characters do retain his signature style. Veera is a toned-down version of Kareena Kapoor’s Geet Dhillon of Jab We Met, an immature drifter, who longs for a break from her ‘prim and proper’ life and wishes to run off to the moutains to lead a quiet, happy life. And, when the young “tameezdar” daughter of a wealthy Delhi hotshot gets kidnapped by a gang of goons led by the rugged Mahabir Bhatti (a very dishy Randeep Hooda), she strangely finds herself enjoying the trip. She connects with her kidnappers better than she does with her folks and wishes that “the whole kidnapping thing” lasts a bit longer.
If Ali stopped at this, Highway would have been a bit more believable. But he goes a step forward and introduces Stockholm Syndrome into the picture and the film falters. The Delhi-bred urbane Veera falling for her kidnapper Mahabir, who repeatedly slaps and threatens her, so soon is too far-fetched an idea to buy in these times. And, to think that the film has been rehashed from a 50-minute film directed by Ali himself for the TV series Rishtey that aired on Zee TV in the early 2000s (with even exact same dialogues but a different ending) makes it even more problematic. Of course, the new version is more beautiful to look at, but it is a shame that in all these years Ali has not been able to come up with a stronger and more convincing screenplay.
The person who takes back the most from this film is, definitely, the leading lady Alia Bhatt. Although there are a few expressing surprise about how “Alia can really act”, for most parts of her performance she comes across as just being rather than acting. Ali has cast Bhatt brilliantly as Veera and the fact that her background is so similar to that of the character works in the both film’s and the actor’s favour. Randeep Hooda as the kidnapper is great, but we have seen better of him in his earlier films. Initially, thanks to his Haryanvi accent, his dialogues are indecipherable, but the first time he smiles in the film is quite a defining moment. All the supporting cast, who are non-actors, and the folk singers deserve a special mention for their sincere efforts. And all faults withstanding, I wouldn’t mind watching Highway again only for the music and the visuals.
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda