It is not often that a movie moves me into tears. Imitiaz Ali’s Highway had that effect on me, though I am not one to promise you a tearjerker that would equally move everyone.
Imagine that sweet bonding that immaculately develops over a road trip in Jab We Met, Imtiaz’s directorial debut. And now combine that with the ephemeral darkness and greyness of the love portrayed in Rockstar, the movie in which Imtiaz changed his stripes from being just another commercial filmmaker on the block- and you will get Highway.
Highway is one of the rare movies which portrays a love story that you know beforehand has no chance of ending well, yet if you allow yourself to be soaked by its emotions, you will realise Highway its not just about the improbable “love” that two very probable people share, it is also about character development- it tells a story of poverty, abuse, sexual crimes, murder, and guilt all rolled into one.
Mahabhir Pathi (Randeep Hooda) and Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) are two people who probably would have never met each other, if not for a fateful night when the latter, a billionaire’s daughter, decides to soak in some fresh air out of her controlled lifestyle, and is indadvertedly kidnapped by the former who is has just robbed a gas station and is taking her hostage.
Financially, Veera has everything Mahabhir will never have- that is the gulf in their class. Mahabhir is crass in his handling and language, Veera is soft spoken, apologises, and seeks to make more friends than enemies.
Yet, as the story unfolds, Imtiaz tells us a tale of unique human connections- what makes us all the same. Beneath the facade of gulf between a criminal and a rich man’s daughter, they find nothing but solace in each other.
As they confide in each other, their haunted childhoods comes back to the fore, and they are now confronting demons they had stashed away for years. Veera is finally able to talk about her childhood while developing a Stockholm syndrome in running back into the hands of Mahabhir, even when she had the chance to run away.
Mahabhir, slowly, sees his estranged mother’s love and affection in Veera’s innocent love, and this consumes him over time, and he lets himself go to drown in Veera’s love.
Randeep Hooda lives under the skin of Mahabhir Bhati, and adds a layer of depth that only great actors can bring to what are already great characters on the paper. His transformation from a crass, single minded criminal to being a man who’s cautiously falling in love is compelling- even bettering Ranbir Kapoor’s tortured soul in Rockstar, which, at times, was heavily dramatised.
Alia Bhatt, well, what can I say. I thought she was overrated after her debut Student of the Year, but there are little doubts as to why she is the most talented upcoming actress in Bollywood. No one in the many grades and classes of actresses above her could pull off a performance such as this. Her grief, her joy, her past, and her own surprise at her attitude towards the kidnappers, was all brought to live in a two-hour marvel of a performance.
This is not a debutant actress at work, ladies and gentleman. This is the making a great actor, a great talent, one who if nurtured well can become a legend in the film industry.
AR Rahman’s music, on the other hand, is a timeless musical score. Patakha Guddi carries the essence of the narration on its shoulders (and its delightful because it is the best composition that will ever be made this year), while songs such as Tu Kuja (shot in a desert with shimmering stars), and Kahaan Hoon Main carry so much subtlety in them that they move the narration without disrupting it.
Sooha Saha sounds way better on screen that it sounded on audio, combined with Mahabhir’s affection for his mother and his guilt- this songs packs an emotion no other song packs in this movie.
If in Rockstar the songs were musical performances, the songs in Highway were blended with the narration seamlessly, almost making it a musical road movie.
Many would argue that Imtiaz’s Jab We Met was more entertaining, but we need to appreciate the fact that Imtiaz had long changed his skins. Rockstar was a reincarnation for the director, and he had moved from the terrains of making feel-good love stories, to making love stories that asks more questions and demands a bit more in terms of consequences and life.
Rockstar was peripherally dark and sad, Highway, though at parts carrying the energy that Jab We Met had, is neither a “sad” or a “happy” movie. There is no labels to be given. Yes, it is a love story, but it is a matured, measured love story.
In this respect, Imtiaz Ali had undone himself, going one further than his previous works. And as an aspiring filmmaker, I need to congratulate him for envisioning his creative license and executing it without compromises.
The gist of Highway has always been in the film’s trailer, with Veera Tripathi’s dialogue:
“Where you took me from, I don’t want to go back there. Where you are bringing me to, I don’t want to get there. But this journey, I like this journey. I want this journey to never end”.
That’s Highway. It’s not about the starting or the ending of the movie, it’s about the journey and the bonding that happens in that two hours.
If you can enjoy that, less assured, you will come out of this experience and say- “this is a fucking masterpiece!”
And yes, I said that. Films like Highway cannot just be made- they click just nicely only once in a while. Instead of restricting yourselves to define what is entertainment, you can allow Highway to surprise you.