Somewhere in the second half of Highway, I desperately hoped that nothing should go wrong between Veera and Mahabir; despite the ominous intuitions. The point is not whether anything wrong happened or not, the point is that I hoped for the lead characters of a Hindi film after a long time; I cared for them after ages. And it was a refreshingly nice feeling. This is where Highway succeeds as a film; it is immersive… and it’s mighty impressive.

Highway, written and directed by Imtiaz Ali, is the story of Veera Tripathi (the wonderful Alia Bhatt), a soon-to-be -married uber rich Delhi girl and Mahabir Bhaati (Randeep Hooda, showing brilliance in restraint), a small-time Haryanvi contract criminal having a quintessentially ‘coconut’ personae. On the night before her wedding, Veera goes on an unwinding drive with her fiancé and winds up getting entangled in a gas station robbery-gone-wrong and becoming hostage in the hands of the kind of people she wouldn’t have even noticed in her usual plush life. The journey that ensues doesn’t just traverse the expanse of 6 states in India, it also delves into the depths and the pasts of the two protagonists who seem to have more in common than what is evident at first glance. The film immerses itself inside the two lead characters with such determination that there are hardly any parallel tracks to deliver respite or opportunities for a loo break. There is sparing footage given to the family’s hunt for Veera in spite of that fact that her father, M.K. Tripathi is spoken of in hushed voices and feared for his political clout. The camera, after a point, becomes the fourth passenger in the truck with Mahabir, his main partner-in-crime Aadoo (a highly effective Durgesh Kumar) and Veera.

It is very easy to trivialize the story of Highway using jargonistic concepts like Stockholm Syndrome, fear conditioning and childhood fixations, but it is quite emotionally moving to actually see it unfold on screen. Here is a movie where you know ‘what‘ is about to happen, but it is the ‘how‘ it happens that will make your ticket money worthwhile.

Highway belongs to writer-director Imtiaz Ali, cinematographer Anil Mehta and musical maestro A.R. Rahman as much as it belongs to Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda. Anil Mehta’s resplendent frames romanticize the rural areas of 6 states without ever naming them. A.R. Rahman’s music is a journey in itself, specially the haunting melody of Sooha Saaha. Imtiaz Ali’s characters have the required depth and back-stories to make them three-dimensional and worth caring for. The characters are not perfect, but then neither are we. It is rather unfair to expect characters in films to behave in a certain fashion and judge them on any discrepancies when real people do completely random things every day.

There are very few films out there that manage to elicit unanimously same reactions from the audience. Highway is not that film. It is a deeply personal journey which must be taken by every individual. Some might fret at the movie’s seemingly languid pace, some might turn their eyes and minds the other way at the film’s major turning points, and then there will be some who’ll become Veera and Mahabir’s co-passengers and smile and weep with them and for them. Highway is a journey – to each, his own.


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