Brimming with pleasing picturesque scenes, Imtiaz Ali gifted us a film which spoke volumes, in limited drama or action. ‘Highway’ was released at a time when a shift was happening at Bollywood—the films were beginning to bear deeper messages and having bare endings. The aim shifted to highlight the ongoing disturbances beneath the surface rather than moving ahead with the storylines alike the typical box-office hits. Starring almost amateur faces and taking the risk to rank as average, ‘Highway’ is a normal-paced piece, sure to rouse goosebumps and shift the hearts of its viewers.
Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) feels suffocated amongst the extravagant preparations of her wedding. She convinces her fiancé, Vinay, to go on a ride in the middle of the night. Her partner reluctantly takes her out, even to the ‘dangerous’ highway on her persistence. Turns out the outskirts of the city is indeed dangerous—Veera gets kidnapped by a gang of robbers headed by Mahabir Bhati, (Randeep Hooda) amidst their robbery at a gas station. As Veera shouts for help, Vinay only screams from the inside of his car, “I told you not to get out of the car!”
But, it is in this captivity that Veera paradoxically finds her freedom. Away from the constraints of the society, she sets on an external journey to explore the countryside, as well as a symbolic venture to find her true self. A glance at the film from far procures the plot to be a typical portrayal of Stockholm syndrome; but ‘Highway’ offers much more.
Shot along the road highways of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, the film captures the raw essence of nature, alike the rawness of its plot. A subtle, overall soothing soundtrack accompanies its cinematography. Anil Mehta was the key cinematographer for the film, and his contribution was simply outstanding especially whilst considering the fact that the film was finished before the targeted timeframe despite incorporating strenuous locations. A.R Rahman composed the soundtrack album, which became an instant hit, with ‘Maahi Ve’ and ‘Patakha Guddi’ topping the charts. Beautifully capturing the symbolic as well as visual essence of the story, the songs intensified the emotions of the scenes.
Imtiaz Ali started working on this story after a long time since it occurred first to him. Many dialogues were improvised on set itself amidst nature, as the filmmaker wanted it to be as realistic as possible—the characters were on a journey of discovery, just as the film discovered itself with the flow.
This being her second film after the high-school chick’s role in her debut ‘Student of the Year’, Alia Bhatt proved to be far more talented than initially expected of her. Her role was not merely of a feisty young woman, but of a woman in search for herself. There seemed a few notable slips in some parts, but the monologue near the end was as impactful as it could have been. The inner turmoil of carrying on unaffected under the same roof as her rapist and assaulter, came out all at once, providing the audience with one of the most powerful monologues in the cinematic history of Bollywood. Randeep Hooda, despite being for a while in the industry, had just began to gain footing. He was a perfect fit for this role, as he added authenticity to his character who otherwise would not have been so believable.
Instead of ending with the inevitable fate of returning to her family or a happily ever-after, the quest of discovery of the heroine wasn’t undermined. This might be a reason why it didn’t emerge as a hit at the box-office. The film touched upon deep aspects such as child sexual abuse, class based criticism, as well as misogyny, and included skilful comic relief throughout its strenuously loaded plot. Hence through ‘Highway’, Imtiaz Ali provided a taste of all, and delivered a deeper, more impactful mark on his audience.
Zaina Shahid Khan is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maryam Hassan