Editor’s Note: Imtiaz Ali’s much-awaited film ‘Highway’ released last Friday, and, over the course of just a few days, has achieved the unique feat of inviting equal amounts of love and hate. What’s even more remarkable is the vehemence with which both ‘lovers‘ and ‘haters‘ have expressed their views about the film. Barring the sedate review or two, sharp words have flown between between the two ‘camps’, especially if you’ve followed the buzz on Twitter. Or perhaps you’ve read the gloriously funny Neruda-take on the film. With this Highway it seems, there’s been no middle-road.
However, as the fires die down, it’s time to pause and reflect on this undoubtedly fascinating film that’s made some fans of Ali despair at his latest turn; some fans exult in his new achievement; and converted some Ali-sceptics into fans. For now, here’s Shivam Sharma taking stock of the film and taking you on a journey he greatly enjoyed.
Also, if you have seen the feature, click here to watch Imtiaz’s original telefilm which inspired the feature and was also titled Highway. And do participate in an interesting poll in that post.
(The following piece contains spoilers. It also contains personal whims, fancies, two languages and if the point gets lost in between somewhere then भूल-चूक, लेनी-देनी माफ़ कीजियेगा.)
“मैं हमेशा कहती थी न कि मैं भाग जाउंगी यहाँ से, मुझे शहर में नहीं रहना।
सब कहते हैं न, पर भागता कौन है?”
१५ साल पहले इम्तियाज़ अली ने ज़ी टीवी के शो “रिश्ते” के लिए एक एपिसोड बनाया था उसके बाद उन्होंने काफी कुछ बनाया, हासिल किया और काफी हद तक बॉलीवुड में एक secure, genre-specific director बन गए. Especially after ‘Rockstar’, his biggest hit, his career graph has gone steadily upwards. ‘रॉकस्टार’ जैसी बड़ी hit देने के बाद, he had the option of going even bigger financially. Knowing how the industry works, giving a big hit generally works wonders — Nolan had a carte blanche to give his whims free rein after ‘The Dark Knight’; and so he made ‘Inception’. But the decision of not going bigger in terms of cast, budget and stars, and instead making a movie based on a story he wrote 15 years ago (or more) with a modest budget, stripped of most ‘Bollywood’ elements and with a not-so-bankable cast, tells us more about the director that Imtiaz is and the path he is on. ‘हाईवे’ की journey सिर्फ वीरा और महाबीर की नहीं है. ये इम्तियाज़ की भी उतनी ही “Finding oneself” वाली journey है. Back to his roots.
१५ साल पहले वाली.
Highway may not be Imtiaz’s best work but it’s definitely his most honest. Of all his films, this has the most scenes without crutches — minimal background music; long, apparently aimless scenes interspersed with silence as if they were unplanned; and scenes that are ‘real’, that feel raw: Veera laughing/crying without any reason sitting on a boulder by a freshwater stream; Mahabeer’s breakdown. Rough edges काफी visible हैं and some scenes seem unfinished in a sense. काफी clear है कि इम्तियाज़ खुद कुछ नया ढूंढ रहे हैं यहाँ. He relies more on his instincts and the power of raw scenes and narrative here than anything else — and he fumbles along the way quite often too. His warts are quite visible here and the screenplay isn’t entirely convincing. However, he has tried to get out of his comfort zone i.e. a strong soundtrack, typical funny side characters, likeable leads etc. The part which juts out like a sore thumb — and that I personally hated the most — was the end segment, the final 15 minutes where he tried to define everything, make sense of the proceedings and tie all the loose ends. It all felt forced and unreal. That part was the most Bollywood-like of the whole movie and I wish he had ended the film 10 minutes earlier and not necessarily provided a forced closure. (The Lunchbox followed it so beautifully. Ritesh Batra knew where to stop. पर it’s ok, कोई बात नहीं.)
The movie soars with the terrain it slowly travels — almost metaphorically. The part where Veera and Mahabeer lose themselves in the mountains, without a care in the world, is the most enchanting. These scenes soar higher than all others. सूफ़ियत कह लें या कुछ और, उस हिस्से में फ़िल्म एक अलग space में पहुँच जाती है. Imtiaz makes a great decision here to cut back on the spoken word and just let the ambient sounds and the scenery do the talking. This part is probably one of the purest cinematic experiences that I have had at a theatre ever.
“एक गोली में आदमी ख़तम हो जाता है न?”
What looks like a simple ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ story gradually becomes much more as we go farther up the mountains and Imtiaz lets the story take its course beautifully towards the latter half (with the help of some great cinematography by Anil Mehta). There are many scenes without much dialogue here. These silent scenes help — they make you think; at that point, it all becomes subjective. You interpret what you want to, you become a part of the journey and maybe that’s what it all comes down to eventually.
You find stuff about yourself.
The two leads shine as does the supporting cast. Alia is brilliant in most parts, despite overdoing a few things here and there. But what a revelation she is! Randeep Hooda is restrained throughout and gradually takes over when Mahabeer finally breaks down. He is one of the best actors we currently have and this performance strengthens that position. AR Rahman’s music and background score take a backseat here and honestly he does not have that much to do. It’s just not that kind of movie maybe. ‘Patakha Guddi’ and ‘Maahi Ve’ are soulful; Sooha Saha is a lovely track as well. However, I really missed Mohit Chauhan’s vocals. The visuals reminded me a lot of especially this song of his.
Highway tries and succeds and fails and then succeeds again. It has some glorious highs and some not-quite-there moments but कुल मिला कर its highs spectacularly overshadow the lows and the movie now and again transcends into a रूहानी space which is well worth the journey — a rarity in Hindi cinema.
But I have always been a mountain person all my life so do excuse me for being a bit biased. चलिए फिर, I’ll see Highway again and try to find out more.
अपने बारे में.
(Professional procrastinator. Amateur doer. I sleep, eat, drink and live movies. And right now I am trying to learn how to make movies at FTII)