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Movie Review: Highway

February 26, 2014

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—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

A young, rich girl is smitten by the road – and her kidnapper.

One of the first words Veera (Alia Bhatt) utters to her prissy soon-to-be husband is: “Lets run away”. The words don't mean much at this point, because as we've been told in splotchy, video-cam stenciled images a few seconds ago, she is getting married the next day.

—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

Veera, who we've nearly missed in this ambush of handycam shots, doesn't look too happy though. She is, at best, impassive. To her the idea of a last minute getaway is heavenly, even ecstatic. To her uptight fiancée, it’s a sensation of impending terror. “Only for fifteen minutes”, he stresses.

A few minutes later, in one of those fate-turning accidents, Veera, and her car, is captured by a gang looting a highway convenience store, simply because she was in their way. As she is roughly forced onto the hood of her car, the most her fiancée – eyes nearly popping out of their socket – musters is a “told you so”. At this point, the audience along with Veera, may be inclined to agree on one thing: she can do better.

—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

Her better turns out to be Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), a gruff, simple man, who is also the chief of these robbers. This is the moment “Highway’s” tagline (“In bondage, she found freedom”), kicks itself into the narrative.

Director Imtiaz Ali’s “Highway” may have the look of a road-movie-cum Stockholm-syndrome romance – and it is, but just barely.

What “Highway” is not, is a big-budget commercial ticket churning extravaganza, or a soulful art-house journey of existential self-discovery. Rather, it’s an evenhanded, frivolous, journey of a young woman’s flight from the problems she padded away in her confined pretty-little-rich-girl lifestyle. Mahabir, and his gang, which includes a lecherous scoundrel, are just instruments of her independence.

Mr Ali should be proud of this baby of his – “Highway” has a fine, clean (and obviously digital) palette of simple vista-scoped cinematography by Anil Mehta (“Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, “Lagaan”), and a still-slightly-green but nonetheless ably graduating performance by Ms Bhatt.

—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

In one of Veera’s few prominent scenes, she goes into a long monologue of a tragedy that may, or may not, have embedded her distaste for the faux reality the rich live. Alas, it is merely one incident – and that too, just about convincing. Mr Hooda, who I've grown to admire a lot of late, and who comes with an already limited performance scope, is gauchely tacked with mere growls and a partly-divulged sob story of his own.

Still, emotions do trigger between Veera and Mahabir in Mr Ali’s screenplay – maybe because people want to see a love-story, however marginal, between a young woman and her somewhat husky, unkempt, leading man.

—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures
—Photo Courtesy UTV Motion Pictures

The conviction takes a while to settle in, especially from Mahabir’s side – at least he knows that there aren't really happy endings in messed up love stories of this world.

Released by UTV Motion Pictures “Highway” is rated U/A, and features a lackluster score by A.R. Rahman and a lot of eye-catching cinematography.

Written and Directed by Imtiaz Ali; Produced by Mr. Ali, Sajid Nadiadwala; Executive Produced by Rajesh Sharma; Cinematography by Anil Mehta; Edited by Aarti Bajaj; Production Designer: Sumit Basu with Music by A. R. Rahman.

Starring: Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt, Saharsh Kumar Shukla, Pradeep Nagar, Durgesh Kumar, Arjun Malhotra.