I am too much late in reviewing Highway (2014) because hearing and reading all the accolades of the movie, I wanted the dust to settle down before presenting my own thoughts about and assessment of it. Since Imtiaz Ali has earned a repute of making good love stories, his admirers were expecting him to come up with an outstanding product only.
And so, I feel that many people liked it immensely because they wanted to like it irrespective of its quality. It happens when we become ardent fans of some artist. We impose our own feelings on the product and start finding ways as to how to relate to it, this way or that way. And then get carried away by the pluses visible, ignoring the minuses so as to maintain symmetry between our liking and our opinion.
Exactly this has happened with Highway which has several pluses but these pluses do not add up to something outstanding. It’s a good movie which could have become a masterpiece but couldn’t due to the over-enthusiasm of the filmmaker.
As the name suggests, the story for the major part of it, runs on highways of India. It’s a movie whose principal characters are on the road, heading towards some unknown destination. The hero has some purpose behind the journey but not the heroine. She simply wants the journey to continue forever.
The hero (Randeep Hooda) is a modestly educated outlaw from a rural background who abducts the heroine (Alia Bhatt) who is the daughter of a rich family and has got engaged to a boy of the same social strata.
Gradually the Stockholm Syndrome comes into existence and the aggrieved and cribbing heroine not only starts enjoying this phase of her life just like an adventure but also falls in love with the hero. And thus the filmmaker justifies the tagline of this movie -‘In bondage, she found freedom’.
Under his whiff of creativity, Imtiaz Ali had made a mess of his earlier venture – Rockstar (2011). He has repeated his mistakes as well as made some new mistakes this time. He has compiled a good cast and extracted brilliant performances from it, he has arranged good soul-soothing music prepared by the music composer, he has taken up a very significant and burning issue of child (sexual) abuse by the family friends and above all, he has selected great locations and got them beautifully captured by the cinematographer (Anil Mehta). But !
But the way, a half-cooked dish cannot be admired despite the high quality ingredients and good recipe, the same way a half-baked and confusing script with its poor treatment spoils everything positive in the movie. Highway is a dish made with good quality ingredients and good recipe but cooked poorly, thus spoiling the taste and the impact on the digestion system of the consumers (i.e., the viewers).
The director has detailed the life of the heroine patiently but not the life of the hero. When he could bring to fore the sexual abuse faced by the heroine in her childhood, then why did he restrict the painful back-story of the hero to bare bones ? How could the hero become a criminal, has not been clarified anywhere.
The script confuses like anything with potholes on every step. Under the temptation of showing beautiful locales of India right from Mumbai to Sambhar Salt Lake of Rajasthan to Kolkata to the hilly terrain of Himachal Pradesh, he forgot to take care of the proper order of the points touched in the journey being made and also did not bother for the particulars of the final destination of the abductors of the heroine.
For him, perhaps, everything else was only an instrument or an excuse to show the journey of the lead pair which was more and more enjoyable. Very convenient for the characters (and the director). Seeing the enjoyment of the heroine (and later on, the hero also), many viewers may wish to be abducted in the same way.
The director has not paid attention to continuity gaps and plot-holes in the script and everything appears to be half-baked only. Leave aside the activities of the abductors and the corresponding activities of the heroine’s high profile family, even the reason of heroine’s opening up before the hero regarding her pain of being sexually abused by a family friend in her childhood hasn’t been explained.
What made her do so ? Not clear. Her outburst in the penultimate scene of the movie when her wedding is being planned, is impressive but does not clarify as to what had stopped her from doing so earlier.
Ignoring the troubles of the kidnapper hero and the apprehensions of the abducted heroine, the director has reduced the movie to a paid Bhaarat-Darshan trip for both of them. Being in scarcity of money, how could the hero arrange the money for fuel for the vehicles driven by him, leave aside the other expenses ?
The cohorts of the hero (except for one who was looking for an opportunity to sexually exploit her), have been shown as having hearts of gold and joining the abducted heroine’s fan club within a few days and enjoying wine-dine-dance with her which is highly illogical. Is it an abduction or a picnic ?
This movie is neither Hero (1983) nor A Perfect World (1993) as far as the abduction story or the Stockholm Syndrome is concerned. If it’s to be viewed as a journey based movie with sentimental developments between the characters, then Imtiaz Ali’s own Jab We Met (2007) starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor and Road Movie (2010) starring Abhay Deol, Tanishtha Chatterjee and Satish Kaushik were better ventures. Especially the low profile and less talked about Road Movie was a much more honest fare.
The way in many Bollywood movies made during the sixties, the story was written just to accommodate melodious songs, in this movie too, the script appears to be mere formality to show the beauty of India. The complete screenplay is incoherent and illogical.
Cinematography is the biggest plus point of this movie. Right from the highway(s) to the salty terrain of Sambhar Lake (my hometown) to the snow and the greenery of Himachal Pradesh, every point has been beautifully captured on the screen.
The movie is a very big visual treat and that only renders it a repeat value. However many scenes have been filmed in dark and hence visibility is poor in them.
Technically this movie is an admirable movie albeit the editor must have been greatly confused by the lacklustre script. The first half is breezy but the story barely moves in the second half. The tragic climax does not serve any purpose whatsoever.
A.R. Rehman’s music is soul-soothing and supports the narrative very well. However no song remained with me when I was out of the theater.
After cinematography, the biggest plus point of the movie is performances from the lead pair, i.e., Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt. I did not know earlier that Alia had played the role of Preity Zinta’s childhood in Sangharsh (1999). Now when I know it, I am not surprised at her astounding performance in Highway because when she could do it in Sangharsh at an age of barely 5-6 years, then she must be a born actress. Randeep Hooda is a highly talented actor and he has risen above the script to render reliability to the poorly written character of the kidnapper hero. Supporting cast members have done their bits well in their low footage roles.
Highway is a gigantic effort without its heart in the right place. Imtiaz Ali has presented a movie with several pluses but the whole product is no better than the sum total of its parts. A beautiful human body cannot be brought into existence just by combining beautiful hands, beautiful legs, beautiful features etc.
We all want our life to be a beautiful journey. As my favorite song from Jab We Met says – Hum Jo Chalne Lage, Chalne Lage Hain Ye Raaste, Aa Ha Ha, Manzil Se Behtar Lagne Lage Hain Ye Raaste; when the journey is beautiful, the paths appear to be better than the destination. However a movie has to end. It cannot go on and on like an endless journey. If Imtiaz Ali wants his audience to sit in the theater (or before the small screen) for an infinite period without any mentionable development in the story of the movie, then he needs to have a refresher course in filmmaking.
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