Past Wednesday is when the good word about Highway started brimming over the horizons of social media. Post Rockstar, my Facebook status read that Imtiaz Ali is the best director of romance in the industry. I loved Socha Na Tha and Jab We Me, enjoyed Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar worked in parts as well. But then the vim was evaporating, the method becoming predictable and the flak on his hood piling.
Once I saw an interview of Ali where in he said that he prefers to be broke after a movie releases, both financially and emotionally. I think this is something which works for every filmmaker, specially for him because he has a distinct idea of freedom and connect between two people. With each successive film, he reinterprets and grows on it. Highway is where it reaches its pinnacle, and how. In Highway, he strips himself of star power and popular cinema tropes to make just the film he wants to make and it works big time. Highway is definitely his best film, despite it being far from being the best film. And Rahman’s score, it would be foolish if you have not fallen for it yet.
Highway is a 133 minute story of Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt), who gets abducted by Mahabir Bhati (Randeep Hooda) in the 10th minute of the film, right before she is about to get married. But we rather talk about the fallacies first, so that I sound less like I am blowing Imtiaz secretly. Highway rings a familiar bell in our ears having seen so many journeys through his films. Baffling amounts of logic are left to our imagination (mostly in the first half) until Ali chooses to explain them in a whiff later. The outer journey of the characters is too simplistic without much obstacles from Veera’s family, Bhati’s gang or the police post the kidnap. The setup of both the characters lacks substantial meat to justify their motivations and leaves some questions unasnwered. We never really know what our characters want, but then Imtiaz cleans that up with an unapologetic masterstroke wherein Veera herself says that she does not know where they are heading, neither do they have a plan.
Veera is yet another Imtiaz Ali girl who possesses a caged intensity, subdued all through life due to circumstances and has to travel to get over them. Much like Jab We Met, the dude in the story has to complete his own journey, obviously affected by Veera. But this time around, its wrapped around with dark underlayers of backstories which are peeled over time, executed on a framework of abduction. It is the moments Imtiaz stirs up with finesse. The scene where Veera tries to escape into the desert at night for the first time, the scene post her terrible disclosure of her past where she hugs Bhati, the scene in Kashmir where she chases him down or the climactic scene with Veera’s family. So much to treasure in so many moments, and the use of digital cameras (almost like a found footage snippet) to dole out important info at two different points of the film. But above all, his exploration of freedom and acceptance is what works for Highway. He makes a film very close to his heart and does not compromise his conviction to end up making a film which works well for the mainstream audience as well. And this might just not rake in the numbers, sadly.
Produced by Ali’s own company Window Seat Films and Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, Highway is an assiduously made film. Months of traveling across India across varied and unfriendly terrains/climates and handling a large crew over days is a feat in itself. Shot completely on location, Highway builds an experience which is rare to find in campy entertainers which fake every location. It is shot in multiple episodes, each of which occur at different places and the line production teams at each of them have done a fabulous job. Aarti Bajaj’s editing is top-notch once again, though this time Imtiaz and her dont play with the narrative as much as they are used to. Anil Mehta’s lens captures a gamut of breathtaking visuals across India, like never seen before in most Indian films. Mukesh Chhabra proves yet again how his casting decisions can make or break a movie like Highway which relies on barely two characters and a handful of side artists who appear for a bit. Rahman is in top form with Highway and gives so much meaning to the film. The score isn’t overexposed or overused but grips you the moment it kicks in. Complete treat, that is.
Highway belongs to Alia Bhatt, and it is hard to swallow that it is only her second film. She steps up the game like no other member of the Bhatt family ever has or ever will. I may just fall short of words, but lets just say that as Veera, she is actually better than the film itself. Soaking in the experience Imtiaz builds for her, she gives a phenomenal performance, one that we crave for, and yet retains Veera’s child-like instincts. I have always liked Randeep Hooda but I fell in love with him in Bombay Talkies last year. With Highway, he marches on in the right direction where his vast reserves of acting can be exploited. Not many actors today would be willing to take a step back and allow the actress to overshadow them, while playing a stunning second fiddle. Durgesh Kumar, Pradeep Nagar and Saharsh Shukla, as Hooda’s aides, work well to add to the overall picture.
Highway is not a regular mainstream film. There is no song and dance break and it explores a couple of dark themes subtly. Yet, it is an enthralling experience at the cinemas. The one, which makes you overlook the shortcomings and come out pumping your fists. This is an experience which Imtiaz has always been trying to provide, and ironically it comes from the story which has been closest to his heart for years, as he claims. It will take a good start at the Box Office but may not sustain the test of time and there is a reason why I say that. At one poignant instant in the climax where I was jolted with the drama, I heard some people laughing behind me and unfortunately, this is what our audience is. Yet, hope lives eternal so I do wish that Highway gets its due and doesn’t just remain like soul food for cinephiles.
Drop everything else you are doing this weekend, go experience this journey on a Highway!
Rating – 3.5/5