Page3Nashik displays Imtiaz Ali’s Highway movie review for the Friday release. The movie is subtle, quiet, yet powerful. The film belongs to Alia Bhatt, who gives a stupendous performance in her second Bollywood film, feel the critics. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali has hit a road less taken. The result is a stylish two-hander that is defiantly unconventional, if not entirely satisfying. Not all of it is convincing though. For one, the heroine’s shift from the initial pangs of fright to the ultimate sense of freedom in captivity appears arbitrarily rushed.
Moreover, the gangster’s messed-up mind is revealed only in sporadic, fuzzy snatches.
It is established a bit facilely that crime is the bitter man’s rebellion against wrongs heaped on his mother by an abusive father and an unfeeling society. Highway bears the unmistakable Imtiaz Ali stamp. The songs are niftily integrated into the narrative; the focus is squarely on the plot; and the female protagonist isn’t a mere object of desire.
The ever-dependable Randeep Hooda delivers a solid performance. A measure of his confidence in his craft is provided by the restraint that he brings to the characterisation, never seeking to get ahead of the plot.
Alia Bhatt is a revelation. She responds to the demands of the role with all the skill at her disposal, nailing both the vulnerability and the tenacity of a harried but spirited.
If you’re an Imtiaz Ali fan, you’ll be stunned by how different Highway is compared to his previous films, in both concept and form. The first thing you’ll notice is how subtle and quiet the film is. Despite a soundtrack by AR Rahman, there is very little background music in the film. There are no tacky reaction shots and no helpful musical cues to spoonfeed the audience. The most dramatic scene of the film is enacted against pin drop silence, relying upon characters rather than background music to move you.
Veera is violently abducted by four frowzy men sporting thick Haryanvi accents. Their leader Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) drags her by the hair through a field in the wee hours and dumps her in the back of his stifling truck.
Director Imtiaz Ali captures her horror and suffocation vividly — Veera sobs bitterly, struggles to free herself in vain. In one throbbing scene, she gets away from a desolate warehouse and feverishly sprints towards any sign of rescue only to realise there is none. Finally, under the gorgeously studded starry sky, she collapses on the vast Sambhar salt plans, cries some more and returns to her unyielding captors.
Randeep Hooda’s Mahabir rarely speaks. An enigmatic, aloof albeit tainted figure, he doesn’t articulate his feelings like Alia but studies her with hidden curiosity. There are bitter outbursts though, which hint at a history of socio-economic hierarchy and oppression. Empathetic to the complex notes of Mahabir, Hooda unleashes his ire in the intense ‘Kutta Kutte Ki Maut Marega’ scene.
Comfort not chemistry is what outlines the attraction between Alia and Randeep as they amble along higher altitudes of make believe.
Highway belongs unabashedly to Alia Bhatt. Her Veera is stunning – sincere and simple, prettily earnest, shakily emotional. Bhatt’s range and prowess are evident in her timid confidence, the slow swagger Veera gains as she takes control of the situation, captivating her captor, confronting assault. Hooda’s Mahavir is frightening, tightly controlled, the actor conveying dark dislike with crackling tension, switching to bewilderment with comic ease. Alongside, Aaroo (Durgesh Kumar), Mahavir’s companion, who breaks into a delightful trance-wala dance with Veera as she sways to ‘English music’ on the road, is memorable.
The film will make even the skeptics take a note of Alia’s talent, as she handles several challenging episodes in the film like a seasoned, mature performer. Randeep Hooda is getting better with every film and under Imtiaz’s direction, delivers a performance that’s pitch perfect. The supporting cast — each one of them — is wonderful.
Watch it for its cathartic creativity, for colours akin to Iranian palettes, for sound design where melting qawwalis, chirruping crickets and a screeching train make layers of noise – for that shot where Veera rests her head on a pillow of water.
Highway is not an easy ride. But it offers fresh breezes and new sights.