Highway (2014) – Critical Appreciation

Mountains, a rich girl, incidents from the past, running away from home, meeting a stranger and falling in love against society’s will , have become stock elements in an Imtiaz Ali film. With his latest film Mr Ali tries to create a road trip kidnapping/ hostage friendly environment type of experience. This film is also filled with the same types of characters that he has always used. A girl traumatized by life, running away to the mountains to find solace. A boy traumatized by life, finding the girl and trying to convince himself to become her lover. Kind of like a semi-modern Indianised re-telling of the Red Riding Hood story (Charles Perrault).

The film starts off with the kidnapping of a rich girl played by Alia Bhatt. She fits the part perfectly as a rich girl stuck in her golden cage. She looks the class that she is supposed to represent. She also has those typical jargons necessary to communicate a posh Indian upbringing. But all of her qualities fail to make us feel connected to her. We don’t feel any sympathy when she suffers. The director did not establish a good beginning. We should have fallen in love with Alia’s character before bad things start to happen to her. One of my fellow members of the audience “Maya” commented that Alia is trying to act like Kareena Kapoor from “Jab we met”. I think personally Aditi Rao Hydari would have been a better choice for the lead character.

Randeep Hooda is good. He balances it out. We are much more intrigued and affected by Hooda’s character. However he should have been given more opportunities to further enhance the plotline. He could have been given the lead instead of Alia.

(Are we seeing a trend here? Imitiaz Ali has been choosing some really bad actresses in the past couple of his films in contrast to the good actors. Maybe it’s his signature style. Who Knows?)

The film’s cinematography is not fit for a theatrical viewing though. The shots are very ordinary. The film will probably be much more visually delightful on a mobile phone screen. The cinematographer fails to capture the minute and beautiful expressions that Randeep Hooda emotes. This is where the choice of shots deduct quality from Hooda’s acting.

A big clap for the editor Miss Aarti Bajaj for rescuing the film from bad cinematography. The montage sequence in the beginning is repeated  again a few scenes later in the film. There was one shot which I saw being repeated twice in a gap of 2 minutes. All of this just tells me that the editor had very little footage to work with.

The script is weak and uninspiring. The tempo of the film fluctuates randomly. There are instances where unrequired surprise is forced on to the viewer. It seems the scriptwriter has no knowledge of the truck business or their dealings with the cops. This is evident when the kidnappers meet the cops at a check post on the highway. The film has a lot of forced structural changes.  In the middle just after the interval we are shown a strange montage sequence. I thought it was a continuation of the anti-smoking public service announcements that we see during the intervals. The interval comes at a very abrupt point. The interval should have left us on our edges, but it didn’t. The so called twist at the end is very predictable. There is a scene near the end of the film where Alia’s character confronts her family about her abusive uncle. This is where the film becomes interesting. This should have actually been at the staring of the film. There are a few interesting dialogues in the film here and there. The side actors were also good.

Overall “a TV production House from Malvia Nagar” could have done the same job much more economically. Producer Sajid Nadiadwala could have saved that money to hire a better scriptwriter. Anyways the choice is yours. The film is meant for the semi-middle class mixed regional audience. The film-literate intellectual class may find this film boring. But I hope it entertains you.

Also if you do feel like catching this film then do go to the DTS Cinema at DLF Promenade, New Delhi. The food is really costly, and the ambience is very posh. But the theatre has a lot of plus points. Like a very well designed seating arrangement with superb sound and picture quality added to the mix.

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