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30 November 2023

Bollywood movie review: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda step it up for ‘Highway’

By Sneha May Francis

Every journey is a life-altering experience.

And, that’s the sentiment that director Imitiaz Ali flourishes on in ‘Highway’.

In a world where we conveniently tend to believe that perpetrators of crime/abuse are often outside the four walls of our house, Imitiaz breaks that belief through his unlikely road-trip.

‘Highway’ unfolds through vintage montage shots of this travelogue.

Veera Tripathi is the daughter of a highly, influential rich man, who unknowingly gets trapped in a power tussle between the rich and the poor.

Stifled in a society that refuses to recognise or value the integrity of a 9-year-old, she craves for “freedom”. For a world unlike the one she’s born into.

Life unfortunately never throws her an opportunity until before her wedding day, when she sneaks out with her fiancé for a drive on the highway.

A stop at a petrol station and a few gun fires later, her travel companions are swapped, and she’s taken hostage.

Her rich upbringing comes as a shocker to her kidnappers, who then attempt to cash in on their unplanned catch.

The thugs take her along through the North Indian terrain - Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Rajasthan and Punjab, over snow-clad mountains and through rustic villages.

Places she has never ever seen, because she confesses to only staying in resorts when she has travelled.

As the days pass, she develops an unlikely bond with her kidnappers, and secretly wishes the drive never ends.

Imitiaz’s ‘Highway’ isn’t about the girl alone. It’s also about her ruthless kidnaper Mahabir, who reluctantly embraces the changes that finds him.

Apart from steering clear of cosmetic strokes that are synonymous with Bollywood, Imitiaz embarks on a trip that prods his protagonists to break their guards and rediscover themselves.

And this, he does with deft and conviction.

His Veera and Mahabir are impressively fleshed out, and given ample frames to rebuild themselves, and face their childhood demons with courage and confidence.

There’s an unlikely romance that blooms, one that they both know will never end in “happily ever after”. But, one that Imitiaz explores with innocence and charm.

Unfortunately, he’s unable to pace the travels adequately, sinking and soaring at random through the two-hour-and-10-minute screen time, leaving us distracted often.

He even overlooks continuity slips, wherein Veera’s diamond bracelet and studs disappear without an explanation especially when it gleams and shines through the first few scenes.

Imitiaz, however, banks on the performances and redeems himself with a crackling end that allows Alia to soar to new heights.

Apart from ditching the pom-poms and eyelashes from her debut film, she has definitely pushed her boundaries and emerges a star. Although there are a few slip-ups along the way, for most parts she has fairly stood her ground.

She has captured Veera’s emotional upheavals, her childish quirks and stubbornness with earnestness.

It’s her impromptu jig with her captor Aaddoo in the middle of a rocky road that’s the most endearing.

She also nails the scene that exploits Veera’s desperation and subsequent breakdown as she fails to discover anescape route despite being challenged by her abductors.

Randeep Hooda backs her up with a staggering performance and sketches the rugged Mahabir’s volatile personality with remarkable subtlety.
A scene where he breaks down when he sees a life he cannot own is the most poignant.

Imitiaz sums up the journey with Veera holding the book ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’, subtly elucidating a woman’s desire for a life unwritten by social norms.

‘Highway’ is a road less travelled, and one that we think you must embark on. It’s a bumpy ride, no doubt, but one that’s set in the right direction.