Title: HIGHWAY (2014)
Stars: Alia Bhatt (Veera Tripathi), Randeep Hooda (Mahabir Bhatti), Arjun Malhotra (Vinay)
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Music: A.R. Rahman
Singers: A.R. Rahman (Maahi Ve), Jyoti & Sultana Nooran (Patakha Guddi)
Other: Based on the 1999 Zee TV series Rishtey episode of the same title, also by Imtiaz Ali
Basic Plot: Just a few days before her wedding, Veera is randomly abducted during a gas station robbery. When the gang finds out Veera is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist with political connections, they argue over what to do with her, but Mahabir Bhatti vows to see it through and get his ransom. Traveling from state to state in a truck, the journey changes everything, for Veera and for Mahabir. On the highway, she finds a freedom she never had before, while he learns to be human. Veera chooses to stay with him, even when she could leave. But how will the journey end?
The first time I watched Highway was without subtitles. Not that my Hindi is that good — far from it. I could only understand bits and pieces of what they said. But what a great film to just watch. It’s a whole different viewing experience. It’s said the majority of communication doesn’t come from the words themselves, but from body language and tone, and this film is full of that.
It is very well acted and expressive. If anyone said Randeep Hooda’s Mahabir spends most of the film just glowering, I’d say there’s a whole lot they’re missing. His intensity is magnificent, but his expression changes over time. It felt very natural to map his character development and feelings toward Veera by his expressions and tone, shifts his words may not have matched, since people often seek to hide feelings with their words, rather than reveal them.
Alia Bhatt also did a great job with Veera, going naturally between a young girl, full of zest for life, and the vacant expression that came when she remembered episodes from the past.
A plot summary I saw when I was looking for the movie described her character as experiencing Stockholm syndrome, but I think that misses the mark. Having been locked away all her life to “keep her safe,” told to be careful, and hushing up her hurts, it’s conversely the danger of this initially horrifying situation that unlocks the door and allows her to be free. Finally, she can see the world around her without all the buffers...smell the fresh air, touch the dust, stay in places that aren't all identical and sanitised.
Bond-with-the-kidnapper plots don't usually work for me, but in this story, considering the pasts of the main characters as they're unfolded, it makes sense, particularly in light of who they become together. Looking backward to the Mahabharata, like Ambika she is abducted but, even more so, like Shakuntala she chooses her man of her own free will. There comes a point at which something in Veera has chosen Mahabir and treats him with complete candor and trust. She is most fully herself with him, and he knows almost without being told what she needs. He loves her perhaps without knowing he does, until she returns to him.
I also loved the music in Highway (well, most of it). “Hot Tamale”/"Wanna Mash Up" was not my thing, but it was great to see Veera and one of the men do an impromptu, only-kinda-Bollywood dance, and the filmmakers were true to Mahabir’s character in that he didn’t join in. You could just look at him and know that wouldn’t be his thing. He would watch them, and you’d feel the link between them during it, but that wild expression of being young and free was so much more in line with Veera’s character.
On the other hand, “Patakha Guddi” (the video clip at the top) is such a catchy song, perfect for the montage of moments they’re depicting. Coming from American film watching, it’s refreshing to hear a soundtrack with a song full of God, even though the imagery is more Hindu and Muslim — an interesting mixture in itself. America gets strangely weird about that sort of thing. I like that Hindi films are so easygoing in their combinations of sacred and secular.
I liked this film well enough to buy it, just so I could rewatch it with subtitles. It’s emotionally engaging, well filmed, and well acted. I think it’s rated PG, and that’s mostly true, but the early abduction scenes can be disturbing, as can Veera’s discussion of past events. So probably ages 11 or 12 and up would be okay, depending on the person.
Having watched it now with subtitles, I give it 5 stars. I loved this movie.