Imtiaz Ali is easily one of the best storytellers of our times and he narrates his stories with great passion. With Highway he takes the road less travelled and makes a film that is braver and more risky than his previous outings. Does he succeed? Let’s just say Highway is his best film till date.
Like all his films the characters in Highway also traverse long distances and transcend geographical boundaries. In this case, Mahabir and Veera travel from the arid tracts of Rajasthan to the snow-capped mountains in Kashmir (Which Anil Mehta captures beautifully). Interestingly, Imtiaz had already told this story when he directed an episode for Zee TV’s Rishtey but Ali felt that there was more to the story and thank god for that!
I have always loved the way Imtiaz Ali develops the characters in his films; especially the female protagonist. Mahabir and Veera’s relationship is ambiguous and that is the beauty of the film. They can be lovers or they can’t be but they are definitely in love. Love that cannot be outlined by the conventional definitions. Mahabir sees his mother in Veera and the way she embraces and caresses him when he cries, he probably finds his mother in Veera. However, the way Mahabir looks at Veera when she breaks into a spontaneous dance somewhere hints at Mahabir being attracted to her. Similarly, Veera feels protected with Mahabir and finds the father in him which she has never had. But, whether she saw a lover in Mahabir is something we don’t really know as the film doesn’t give any clear answers. I believe she didn’t.
Mahabir and Veera are two characters that are hurting as hell. They are stooges of destiny whose childhood is obscured. They are fighting an inner battle with themselves which they eventually win as they confide in each other; whether it is Veera’s painful secret from her childhood or Mahabir’s guilt of killing three people.
Highway is about discovering oneself. It is about attaining freedom. It is about achieving salvation. It is about self-discovery. Like most Indians, I love happy endings and would have liked to see Mahabir live but his life wouldn’t have served the purpose of the film. His death sets Veera free. Veera unearths herself on the journey with Mahabir and experiences freedom. I also loved the way film subtly mocks the ‘tameezdar’ society and leaves us with a message. It talks (doesn’t preach) about child molestation and how the ‘well behaved’ society remains a mute spectator to it. It strips our hypocritical society and makes us ask ourselves ‘Kya hum bhi inhi mein se ek hain?’
Talking about the leads, Randeep Hooda is brilliant as the abductor and plays his part with great ease. He is one of the good actors we have today and is much more than what the Bhatts make him do. But Highway belongs hands down to Alia Bhatt who inhabits Veera’s world and infuses it with childlike honesty. This girl can act and how! Watch her in the scene when she is talking to herself as she mounts on a rock in the Kashmir valley or when she confronts the man who abuses her or when she breaks into a spontaneous dance. Brilliant!
Imtiaz-Irshad-Rahman are Tridev (God). Highway wouldn’t have been what it is had it not been for them who instill soul into the film. Whether it is Veera’s run in the Sambhar lake with ‘Tu Kuja’ playing in the background or their journey to the mountains with Jonita’s haunting vocals; ek रूहानियत hai; a sufi feel to it.
In one of the scenes in the film Veera says to Mahabir;
“जहाँ से तुम मुझे लाए हो, में वहाँ वापस नही जाना चाहती.
जहाँ भी ले जा रहे हो, वहाँ पहुँचना नही चाहती.
पर यह रास्ता, यह बहुत अच्छा है.
में चाहती हूँ की यह रास्ता कभी ख़तम ना हो.”
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey quite like what Lord Krishna says कर्म करो, फल की चिंता मत करो. Go, take this journey!