Highway Review Summary: Best Way To Sum Up Highway – Dora The Explorer Undergoes an Eat Pray Love Moment during a YRF-style Kidnapping Plot Sponsored by National Geographic. The Result is a Frustratingly Disappointing Mishmash.
Rating: 1.5 / 5
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda
Highway is almost stoned with verdurous landscapes eager to capture yet another snow-capped valley, yet another batch of folk artists warbling in the middle of nowhere. If it were to go under the scanner, I’m sure the reports shall detect directorial self-indulgence. Yes, we have come to expect a great deal of travel in director-writer Imtiaz Ali’s films.
His debut effort Socha Na Tha treated us to Goa, and his next and most popular Jab We Met circled through Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. His next two films – Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar went international. Of course, the locations acted as backdrop to the storyline in each of the four cases. Why are repeatedly subjected to shots of tranquil nature in Highway then? Yes, to convey an atmosphere and to a degree the characters’ frame of mind. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours have shown great degree of expertise in employing environment alongside filmic elements to heighten the emotional state.
In Highway, however, scenery chews up everything and all we’re left with are memories of parting clouds, chirping crickets and vegetation and little of anything else. It feels as though a very filmi kidnapping story was spliced with truckloads of scintillating images from National Geographic, and what we get in the end is something a la Eat Pray Love except on the Highway, with a Yash Raj treatment to the kidnapping angle and plentiful of ped-paudhe. The mishmash makes for a unsatisfactory watch.
You know a film’s in trouble when itself doesn’t understand what its tone has to be. Some images are so sharp they seem to be injected with artificial coloring. It seems the characters’ themselves weren’t as besotted with the beauty as Imtiaz Ali was, and therefore the picture looks pretty but empty.
Talking about characters, Alia Bhatt returns in her sophomore work after Student of the Year as Veera Tripathi, a rich but unhappy girl (cliché) who gets kidnapped on night on the highway and soon goes “Yeah, I’m kidnapped! Now I can sightsee!”. She has a troubling childhood secret that’s eventually revealed to us and the other characters. Alia has a babyface, but her screen presence is far more refreshing than babyface contemporary Hansika Motwani’s. There isn’t much to her character, who goes through the routine cycle of outright fear and apprehension, followed by submission, cooperation, realization, then finally intimacy, in a movie that requires her to fall in love with her kidnapper.
She’s overtly nice and simplemindedly naïve for someone from a well-off family, and Alia portrays Veera as a bug-eyed Dora The Explorer. Her eyes don’t convey much about her past, and most experienced actors know you can convey a great deal about your character through your eyes. She doesn’t give us a fully realized character the way Kareena Kapoor presented us Geet in Jab We Met, the way Shahrukh Khan played Mohan Bhargav in Swades. More than a breakthrough performance, it’s a Filmfare-baiting performance through and through, especially in the scene where Alia tells her kidnapper how she was the victim of child abuse. What had me scratching my head was that she had no purpose behind telling him all that stuff at that point of time. See, I told you she wants that naked statue badly!
Randeep Hooda gives a less than impressive performance as Mahavir, her kidnapper, for he too cannot completely settle into character the way actors like Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddique would. The scenes play more like airbrushed reconstructions of events and the performances ring false. A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack redeems the film to an extent by creating an aura that’s more in tune with the film’s purpose, but that can’t undo all the mishaps and collisions caused by Ali, cinematographer Anil Mehta and the cast. It’s a highway to nowhere.