Highway, the story of a young bride-to-be being abducted and finding liberation in the company of thugs as they travel through North India in a truck is more a story in pictures than words.
Thanks to Anil Mehta’s masterful camerawork and the natural beauty of Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, Highway is a visually sumptuous ode to India’s landscape. However the pictures can only make up partially for the convenient route charted by the script.
How does a posh and protected Delhi girl share her darkest secret with rough and ready goons days after she has been violently captured by them? What makes her believe these men will side with her and not destroy her life further? And does Stockholm syndrome set in so quickly?
Veera (Alia Bhatt) rather quickly endears herself to the equally damaged Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), and the kidnapper soon becomes the coolie, chaperoning her through snow-covered mountains. During her captivity, Veera reveals a rather extensive wardrobe for the abducted, till her idyllic captivity and playing house-house with Mahabir meets a dramatic result.
Rather literally, with cliched dialogue and over-stating the case, Ali makes the point of how sometimes the world outside is safer and more liberating than the home, that nature and the open road can be healing and journeys are more important than destinations.
What Imtiaz Ali achieves with A. R. Rahman’s music, the sound design, sparing use of background music and the cinematography, he loses in the supporting cast, especially Veera’s family populated with amateur actors, and contrived script. There is also a gratuitous scene of a goon with an effeminate companion constantly stroking his arm compassionately.
Thank god then for Randeep Hooda’s restrained performance and ability to take the backseat to the director’s vision. Kudos also to Alia Bhatt for giving such a risky role her best shot in just her sophomore outing. Her expression of Veera’s pain may not always be convincing but you cannot fault her for effort and her vulnerability is palpable even if at times the cute act is bothersome. In fact at times she comes across as a teenager, perhaps too immature for her impending marriage. Durgesh Kumar as Mahabir’s companion Aaroo also deserves mention.
The inertia of the middle and the theatrical denouement are additional speed bumps on this pot-holed expedition where the message is the movie – Highway.
But like Ali’s Rockstar, the impact of Highway is delayed and comes in waves.