You should drive on this highway!
A city girl – young, full of life – is on the highway at night with her fiancé. Suddenly, her life is swung away from the brocade and jewellery of marriage to the harsh brutality of abduction. Her life will never be the same again. The gang is in a panic; the girl is a big industrialist’s daughter, his links in the corridors of power make ransom out of the question. But for the leader of this group sending her back is not an option. As the days pass by, the scenery changes, the girl feels that she has changed as well. Gradually, a strange bond begins to develop between the victim and the oppressor. It is in this captivity that she, for the first time, feels free.
I live in a country where the masses love the typical ‘Bollywood Masala movies’ and because of this, movies like Highway are generally ignored or don’t get the credit that they deserve. Without a doubt, Highway is far from a Bollywood stereotype. Despite so, I am glad that this movie came into the limelight. Maybe it was because if the A-list celebrities involved in the movie, but at least such a powerful and worthy movie came into focus amongst the Indian audiences.
The trailers of this definitely did not prepare me for the movie. I was simply stunned while watching the film. Highway exceeded my expectations (expectations which I had built form the trailers). This movie if nothing else is a great example of a road-film. The sceneries in each passing screen can leave you breathless and mesmerized by the beauty of the Indian hills, valleys and nature. But along with being a road-film, this is also a coming-of-age film, as the director Imtiaz Ali stated.
The lead protagonist of the film is Veera (Alia Bhatt) who is your typical chic rich city girl who has never truly been out in the world. She is all set to marry soon but the day before her marriage she gets kidnapped. This is where our male protagonist turns up, Mahabir Bhatti. After this moment, the story actually takes off and basically revolves around these two characters.
Both Veera and Mahabir are polar opposites. While Veera is bubbly and has lived a sheltered life, Mahabir is rough and rugged and who has a lot of life experience. But what perplexes Mahabir (and probably the viewers too) is that Veera enjoys being kidnapped rather than being scared and upset. Growing up in a golden cage she never got to flex her wings to go out and explore the world. Now, she finally got the chance. Travelling in a truck she gets to experience life without her rose-coloured glasses and she finally gets a taste of freedom. Veera finds peace and happiness in her bondage.
As both Mahabir and Veera get closer during the journey they end up sharing their deepest, darkest secrets as well. Veera reveals about the sexual abuse she faced as a child and Mahabir talks about his abusive father and how he became who he is now. They find a companion in each other and maybe even a sort of safety net. Sometimes it is easier to confide to a stranger about the things that haunt you or which you are ashamed of. So when that stranger also has had similar experiences, an unspoken bond forms. I think this is what happened between the two as well.
Now, I can be said that Veera just suffered from ‘Stockholm syndrome’ and there weren’t actual feelings or bonding between the two. But, I think that there was. Now, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself and say it was love, but there was definitely an understanding between the two which, if given time, might have blossomed into a friendship as well. Also, the reason why I disregard Stockholm syndrome, in this case, is because despite being kidnapped by Mahabir, he never abused Veera. They got to know each other and slowly grew into a sense of camaraderie or solidarity.
“Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.”
But more importantly, this movie talks about child abuse. When Veera returns back after her ordeal, it seems that she finally gets the courage to face her childhood nightmares. She openly confronts the relative who knowingly sexually molested Veera. In a way, this finally brings her peace and gives her the strength to live life on her own terms rather than follows her family’s whims and wishes.
Things are definitely changing in India but an Indian girl is still coddled and restricted by her family. A girl is meant to keep the honour of the entire family. She is meant to be passed on from father to husband without having her own dreams of desires. This may seem archaic thought but it is still believed and practised in many Indian families, either consciously or unconsciously. It is truly a sad reality. And through Highway, we can see that just being rich or educated doesn’t mean having a liberal ideology. This is a problem which persists from the remotest villages to the urbanest cities, from the poorest and least educated to the elite. Even Veera, despite being from a fairly modern, rich and educated family and living in one of the biggest countries felt the pressure of not revealing her molester. She was violated yet felt that she was in the wrong and she must hide this crime because it is her “shame”. Even in her young age, and after growing up as well, she realized what being a woman and being molested would mean for the honour and prestige of her family.
Imtiaz Ali, who is known for his movies ‘Jab We Met’ & ‘Rockstar’, has directed this movie. Like his previous works, ‘Highway’ is also well crafted and a wonderful product. Surely, this can even be considered one of his best works. He emphasises not only on the story but locations as well. This movie has lots of stunning locations of India along with the accompaniment of A. R. Rahman’s superb music. A. R. Rahman is known for his classic cult music. In this film, he gave a fairly good composition. I loved most of the tracks but my favourite was ‘Jugni’.
In the acting department, I was quite taken aback. I never thought that Alia would fit in this role but I was proved totally wrong. She is remarkable in the role and very realistic. Her minimal but strong acting really brings her character to life. The same can also be said about Randeep Hooda who comes across as brilliant in his portrayal of Mahabir.
I really enjoyed this movie. This may not be the greatest movie but it is definitely fresh and enticing. If not the story and the locations will really lure you in and make you want to escape your life as well (unless you are already living this type of life!). This movie was a risk and a risk well-taken. Definitely deserves a kudos from my side.
This may not be the greatest movie but it is definitely fresh and enticing. If not the story and the locations will really lure you in and make you want to escape your life as well (unless you are already living this type of life!).
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This review is co-written by our friend Hiren Gondalia.
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