Highway Director: Imtiaz Ali Starring: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Anyone who has tagged Imtiaz Ali as a maker of big Bollywood blockbusters is in for a surprise with Highway.
The RockStar and Love Aaj Kal director’s first foray into digital filmmaking sees him use a documentary-style aesthetic in telling the story of a poor little rich girl who gets kidnapped days before her wedding. The dark muted images and harsh tone of the opening sequences are more reminiscent of the work of the growing band of India’s independent filmmakers, such as Anurag Kashyap, than the glossy fare usually offered by the Disney-backed UTV studio.
The action is held together by a star-making performance from Alia Bhatt. She plays Veera, a confident, assertive and playful woman whose world is capsized when she persuades her fiancé to drive out to the main “highway” and gets taken hostage during the robbery of a petrol station.
The introverted Mahabir, played by the Once Upon a Time in Mumbai star Randeep Hooda, is the brooding leader of the captors and seems to have modelled himself on the less-is-more performances of Ryan Gosling or one of Clint Eastwood’s cowboys. He doesn’t say much but stares at the road they travel on, at his cohorts, into the camera, and, in the early section of the film, into space – no doubt sharing the audience’s fear that Highway is developing into a typical kidnap movie of the kind we’ve seen a thousand times before.
But just as the action threatens to become monotonous, there’s a dark twist that completely changes the nature of the relationship between captor and captive. It’s part-Stockholm syndrome, part Three Days of the Condor. Ali handles it deftly; in fact, it is some achievement to pull this off in a believable, effective way.
From here, the story develops just like the road taken by the captors; offering romantic picturesque vistas, but always with potential danger around the bend. The story is set against a brilliant soundtrack by A R Rahman, admittedly less emphatic than his work on Slumdog Millionaire and RockStar but perfectly capturing the hostage Veera’s continually evolving state of mind.