Writer-director Imtiaz Ali takes the audience on a voyage in a direction that is markedly unusual. The result is a fulfilling experience that stops just short of being exhilarating.
Highway tells an episodic story of a chirpy and cheerful Delhi girl, Veera (Alia Bhatt), who is kidnapped for ransom by a brooding gangster, Mahabir (Randeep Hooda).
The reprehensible crime occurs days before the wealthy girl’s wedding. To begin with, she recoils in horror, but begins to enjoy the ride as time progresses, developing a strange bond with her captor.
Ali does not make Highway an ordinary Stockholm syndrome tale. He turns his tale into a life-altering journey for the two characters involved.
Picked up from border of Delhi, Veera is taken first to a hideout in Rajasthan and from there to Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir.
Seen through Anil Mehta’s camera, the locations are stunning. But it is the characterization that makes the film worth watching.
The abductor and his victim belong to different ends of the socio-economic spectrum, but both are badly scarred souls. As they begin to penetrate each other’s emotional defences, their back stories emerge in bold relief.
If viewed through the prism of conventional morality, the incipient bonding between Veera and Mahabir might feel a tad unacceptable. Why, you might wonder, would a poor little rich girl fall for a boorish man who is out to make life miserable for her?
If Highway does not feel overly false, it is because of the humanity that Imtiaz Ali is able to invoke in the relationship between two disparate individuals.
Moreover, Highway isn’t your average romantic film. The equations between the young girl and the older man are shorn of physicality and become a means for the two to heal the wounds left behind by troubled growing up years.
Highway would have been a far more gripping film had the director informed it with a little more pace and energy. But that would probably have scuttled the gentle rhythm of a narrative that abounds in warm moments that leave a mark.
The highlight of Highway, besides the cinematography and the editing (Aarti Bajaj), is the acting of the lead pair.
Randeep Hooda in the guise of a Haryanvi goon delivers a performance of remarkable restraint. He could have muffed it all up by adopting gang leader swagger. Both the actor and the director deserve applause for pitching it just right.
Alia Bhatt, in only her second film, is totally believable as an innocent girl who has faced enough betrayal in life not to be unduly perturbed by an act of violence.
Highway isn’t a high-speed, hi-jinks ride, but hop on. It will take you to parts of the country and the human psyche that Hindi cinema rarely does.