Film Review: 'Highway'
Opened: 21 February 2014
Cast: Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Producer: Sajid Nadiadwala, Imtiaz Ali
There’s a saying that goes: 'Sometimes people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to. It’s not for them...' In Highway, director Imtiaz Ali takes us on one such journey, an incredibly profound one at that, and gives us an unlikely love story – a story that will inevitably bring a lump to viewers throats and touch their hearts in a way they'd never imagined.
In what initially seems like a lift straight from Subhash Ghai’s 80s blockbuster Hero which launched the fledgling careers of both Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadri, Highway tells the story of a young city girl with a suppressed joie de vivre (Bhatt), who gets abducted by a group of rustic criminals when she’s out on a late night drive with her to be husband in the middle of a deserted highway.
Their plans go awry, however, when they discover that she’s the daughter of a wealthy industrialist who has connections with influential politicians, and they start getting cold feet. The gang’s leader (Hooda) is keen that they stick to their plans regardless, and after their initial disdain, both kidnapee and abductor, two very contrasting individuals, find themselves drawn to one other.
He begins to thaw under her persistent innocence while she finds herself intrigued by her captor and whatever lies beneath his aggressive exterior. From here on begins their unlikely journey – a journey of self discovery and one that inevitably forces them to face the demons of their dark pasts, and one that changes the course of their lives. Forever.
There’s no point going round in circles here. Whether you’re a fan of Hindi films or not, Highway is a perfect example of an exemplary piece of filmmaking. Be it the eye popping, sweeping landscapes of Himanchal Pradesh and Kashmir, or the beauty of rural India that filmmakers inexplicably never project on celluloid, the bang on screenplay, the spot on characterisations or A.R. Rahman’s lilting music to the groundbreaking performances, Highway is hands down one of the best films I’ve seen in at least a decade. Yes, the rustic raw language may at times be incomprehensible and the generous use of expletives may not be to everyone's taste, but it fits with the theme of the film and I wouldn't have it any other way.
To cast a one film old Alia Bhatt with a supremely talented, yet underrated actor like Randeep Hooda takes guts. And kudos to producers Nadiadwala and Ali for going with their instincts and casting the two in what will inevitably go down as not just theirs, but probably one of the finest performances I have witnessed in recent times.
What's refreshing about Highway is that it delves into dark and complex subjects hitherto explored by Hindi films (revealing them would be revealing one of the film's biggest plot points) – subjects which modern day filmmakers shy away from and/or brush under the carpet.
Looking at this film, the mind boggles and wonders – is this really just Alia Bhatt’s second film? Like really? The innocence, the rawness, the fear and the emotions that she projects along with the very apparent understanding she has of her character, blows the competition out of the water. Yes. She’s that good, even if a little rough around the edges.
And what do you say about Randeep Hooda? That he’s a fabulous actor was never under question. But casting him in this film was nothing short of a masterstroke by Imtiaz. If he’d cast someone big, with an already established persona, the impact would have been massively diluted. But Hooda deserves several accolades (and then some), for his amazing turn as the kidnapper with an aggressive and disturbing past, but beneath all of it, being just human and inherently traumatised like most of us.
And hail. I doff my proverbial hat to Imitaz Ali, who's probably the most gifted filmmaker this side of the millennium. To trust two relatively inexperienced actors to pull off a film (and not resort to commercial gimmicks) requires courage and conviction and both he and his vision should be lauded for that alone. There are some scenes that may be open to interpretation, but therein lies the film's beauty. It's nothing short of a class act.
Highway is about all of us (perhaps not to that extreme of course, but I related to several elements in the film from a personal standpoint) – a journey that needs to be witnessed on celluloid for its sheer brilliance, and to appreciate how far Hindi cinema has come. Refreshingly it teaches us, that it's not just stars and pretty locations that make a film. A good one has heart. It has soul. It has a message that you’ll take and remember down the line. This is one such experience.
I'm going with five stars for Highway. A passionate and truly outstanding work of art that should not be missed.
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