Last year, Gangs Of Wasseypur director Anurag Kashyap in an interview with The Guardian spoke about Indian cinema’s obsession with hygienic, pristine places. But something tells me he wouldn’t have made this comment had he watched director Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Featuring one-film-old Alia Bhatt and an underrated talent Randeep Hooda, Highway is unapologetically filthy and has a lead hero that needs a good scrub. Plus, there’s no attempt to gloss over the dirty alleyways of tourist-untouched Indian states or to water down how muddled the protagonists’ minds are.
We are first introduced to Veera and her privileged upbringing as a rich industrialist’s daughter. She’s about to get married to a preppy pansy, but before she gets hitched she has this foolish urge to hit the road. Her plea to run away from all the marriage madness is a hint that all’s not well with this rich girl.
At first, you are prone to write Veera off as a spoilt princess who was spared the rod. But you look at her differently when she unwittingly gets abducted by a gang of violence-prone petty criminals led by a mean, rugged Mahabir Batti (Hooda). The turn of events is quick but her stint as a hostage at the mercy of uncouth, poor criminals proceed at an unhurried pace. She’s foolishly feisty and her fixation with her captor is disturbingly preposterous. At one point, Veera could have turned herself into the police and gained freedom, but she chooses to stick with the hoodlums and continue her ride in a grimy, windowless truck. So, cynics may write off Highway as an idiot’s guide to Stockholm Syndrome, but a part of you buys into their madness because of the convincing portrayals by Bhatt and Hooda. Their relationship, which begins with Hooda stuffing a dirty towel into her mouth to muffle her screams, gradually thaws and takes on a forbidden, erotic tinge. My personal favourite was when Batti tries to shake some sense into Veera and embarks on “where do you think this relationship is going” talk. His sarcastic ‘would we just shack up or would she raise his kids too?’ remarks were spot on. But we are thankful that Highway didn’t cop out and take the traditional happy-ending route that Bollywood films often bow to.
It’s gritty in parts and unrealistic in some (which hostage would break out into a hip-hop dance on wasteland). But watch this one for Bhatt and Hooda. They are at their vulnerable, rugged best. Plus, if you are in the mood to see India in its raw, unpolished state, Highway can be an exhilarating ride.