Movie review Highway: A road less travelled

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Movie review Highway: A road less travelled

Highway is a road movie with a difference: Even as it captures mofussil India at its gritty reality, it also takes you through ‘mindways’ less travelled, Deepa Gauri

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Published: Sat 22 Feb 2014, 3:11 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 7:47 PM

Every one dreams about running away. To live in that mud-brick home by the forests, to watch snow-capped mountains, to listen to the singing rivulets, and to find contentment, far away from the bustle of your real life.

With Highway, director Imtiaz Ali takes you to that dream, not necessarily in the way you fancy, and throws some disturbing moments at you, which can’t be shaken off easily.

While Highway can be simplistically labelled as a road movie, as a take on the Stockholm syndrome, a coming of age story or even as a socially relevant take on child abuse, it transcends all such classification.

Movie: Highway

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep HoodaHrithik

Rating: ***1/2

It is in no way a pulsating, nail-biting story of the bonding between the abductor (Mahabir) and abductee (Veera). There are also the mandatory sub-texts – melodramatic past stories of the protagonists aimed at building audience empathy.

Highway, despite the unbelievability factor that comes built-in with such kidnap tales, has an underlying tension that dissipates only in the climax, when Alia Bhatt as Veera delivers a knock-out monologue performance. Imtiaz packs in an abundance of such moments that are truly independent-spirited and non-Bollywood.

The first attempt of Veera to escape, with Mahabir’s explicit permission, is surreally captured. The girl’s desperation and the inconsequence of one human being in the vastness of the universe come hurling at you, its context elevated by AR Rahman’s soul-stirring music for Irshad Kamil’s equally searing lyrics.

Imtiaz Ali is sure-footed on whose perspective the story must unfold. Even when Mahabir makes an unexpected break-down about his own past, the narrative never steers from Veera, a character that defines the immense talent in Alia Bhatt.

She appears naïve, confused and spoilt – not necessarily making you like her – and also ethereal, innocent and vulnerable. This film is an out-and-out showcase of her talent.

Randeep Hooda, rugged-looking, speaking in monosyllables, allows Alia to be the show-stealer. Yet, in a defining moment, when the promise of a ‘happily-ever-after’ moment comes, and the man’s confusion and sense of lost years take an emotional toll, you see the brilliance of this under-utilised actor.

Highway challenges you at several levels. It provokes your concept of freedom; it questions your outlook on our hypocrisies; and it raises a fresh look on feminism –not from an external viewpoint but from inside one’s home.

Another true hero is Anil Mehta, the cinematographer. Mofussil India comes alive through his camera, never resorting to gimmicks, and the viewfinder firmly positioned at your eye-level.

AR Rahman’s music is magical; here, he explores the nuances of Indian folk music. And you are taken to the heart of it all by Resool Pookkutty, whose brilliance in sound design comes with particular precision in a scene where gongs and bells from a distant monastery merge with the howling of the wind.

The spoilers of Highway are the occasional resorts made to please Bollywood (an impromptu dance by Veera), and the relative abruptness of the protagonists bonding.

If Imtiaz falters in not leveraging the medium of film to suit the pace of a story that can only be slow and meandering, it is not due to lack of trying. But such pitfalls don’t take away the poignancy of Highway. Here, indeed, is a film that explores the possibilities of sound, visuals, acting talent and story-telling.

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