PLEASE NOTE, THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR SOME READERS. IF VERY PARTICULAR, PLEASE DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING THE FILM.
Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. and Window Seat Films’ Highway (UA) is the story of a girl who is kidnapped and falls in love with her own kidnapper. Veera (Alia Bhatt) is engaged to be married to Vinay (Arjun Malhotra). Days before the marriage, she is kidnapped by Mahabir Bhatti (Randeep Hooda) who has a track record of not just kidnappings but a few murders too.
At first, Veera is devastated but she soon realises that Mahabir won’t harm her physically and that he has kidnapped her for ransom money from her rich parents. She develops a soft corner for him and even wins him over with her innocence and child-like banter. While telling him about her childhood, she even asks Mahabir about his own childhood and family. In the process, she realises that he loves his mother very much.
As the drama moves ahead, it becomes clear that Veera is not interested in running away from the kidnapper. In fact, she even tells him how free she was feeling after being kidnapped as he was allowing her to do exactly what she wanted to do. A stage comes when Mahabir Bhatti has a change of heart and leaves Veera near a police station so that she can contact her family members and unite with them. But by now, Veera has made up her mind to continue being with Mahabir rather than returning to her parents.
Does Mahabir Bhatti accept Veera? What is it that Veera feels for Mahabir? Is it love or respect? Does Mahabir reciprocate her feelings? Does Veera unite with her family? What is it that makes Veera want to stay with Mahabir rather than return to her parents? Does Veera marry her fiancé? Or do Veera and Mahabir unite in matrimony?
Imtiaz Ali’s story about a kidnapped victim falling in love with her own kidnapper is not completely novel as one has seen a victim falling for the tormentor in earlier films too. The drama reminds of Hero, which had a similar story-line. However, Imtiaz Ali’s screenplay is very fresh as the inci¬dents which transpire between the kidnapper and the kidnapped are novel and even entertaining. Veera’s innocence is the biggest plus point of her character and also of the screenplay because it is this innocence which brings in humour at regular intervals in the film. The characters of Mahabir Bhatti and of his gang members are so in contrast with that of Veera that the audience enjoys it because such diverse personalities are thrown together. This thread of unlikely companions interests the viewers and also entertains them greatly.
However, the drama takes a serious turn once Veera reveals about her childhood trauma to Mahabir. The writer is quick to bring in the element of fun soon after the serious and, if one may use the term, depressing twist in the tale. Having said that, it must be added that there are some drawbacks in the screenplay. For one, the audience is left wondering what must be happening in Veera’s house as the writer doesn’t show, for quite a long time, what steps her parents take after getting to know that she has been kidnapped. Also, the softening of a hardened criminal like Mahabir Bhatti seems a bit too hurried and convenient. Again, the drama becomes a bit unpalatable once Veera refuses to return home even after being given a chance to do so. Agreed, she is happier with the kidnapper than with her own family but the audience feels, if Veera is so smart as to take care of herself in the company of her kidnapper, she could surely take care of her interests when living with her parents. In other words, Veera is not shown as a helpless little lady who would continue to live in misery after a point of time; she didn’t need to opt for living with a criminal to escape staying with her family. Besides, she, in any case, is due to get married within a few days, so the thought of being happy with her fiancé should have prompted her to run away from the kidnapper – at least, that’s what the audience tends to think. It is not as if she would face the same trauma – which is what is keeping her away from returning to her parents – when she would be married and gone to live with her husband. Another very major defect in the screenplay is that Veera talks about her childhood problem but she seeks solace in something which does not in any way address that problem. In other words, she is angry with her parents for not doing anything about her childhood trauma but the reason she finds solace in Mahabir’s company is because she experiences a rare sense of freedom with him, not because she feels that he has addressed that problem. No doubt, Mahabir does not sexually abuse her despite having the opportunity to do so, but Veera keeps harping on her sense of freedom rather than her sense of security. Many among the audience will, therefore, not be able to connect Veera’s ire against her family with the solution she seeks for taking revenge in the end. In a manner of speaking, Veera has a stomach ache but seeks medication for a headache. The unconventional ending also leaves the audience with a happy-sad feeling rather than a completely happy feeling as the Indian audience is used to leaving the cinema hall with. Besides, the audience does not feel emotionally moved for Veera for too long, something which does not make the film stay with them for too long after it is over.
The humour, at places, is very class-appealing and it will not be app¬reciated by the masses and the single-screen cinema audiences as much as by the classes and the multiplex-frequenting viewers. If one were to speak about the pre- and post-interval portions, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the pre-interval part is lighter and more entertaining. The second half seems stretched, besides being a bit heavy and unrealistic. The pace of the entire film is slow. Dialogues, written by Imtiaz Ali, are very realistic and enjoyable.
Randeep Hooda plays the character of Mahabir Bhatti with flourish. He does a fine job of the kidnapper who soon starts viewing his victim with empathy and compassion. Alia Bhatt delivers an award-winning performance. Firstly, she looks every inch the rich and innocent girl she plays. Her acting is so natural that it would seem, she were born to play the role. In not one scene is she found lacking or going overboard. Alongside the light scenes and those in which she conveys her rich-girl attitude, she is extraordinary in the emotional and dramatic scenes too. Durgesh Kumar (as Aadoo), Pradeep Nagar (as Tonk), Saharsh Kumar Shukla (as Goru), Hemant Mahaur (as Kasana) and Shakeel Khan (as Sharaf) lend decent support. Reuben Israel is fair as M.K. Tripathi. Arjun Malhotra lends the necessary support in the role of Vinay, fiancé of Veera. Naina Trivedi (as Amma), master Mohd. Kaif Humdum (as young Mahabir), baby Samar Mudasir Bakshi (as young Veera), Avtaar Sahani, Sandeep Leyzell, Mohit Rastogi, Rajeev Sharma, Vikram Seth, Dr. Vivek Rajpal, Sanjay Chouhan and Mohit Choudhary (as ACP Special Cell) provide fair support.
Imtiaz Ali’s direction is first-rate although the same cannot be said about his script. His narrative style is engaging and keeps the audience engrossed. He has also extracted wonderful performances from out of his actors. A.R. Rahman’s music is good although one expects only great songs from this music director. The ‘Ali Ali’ song is a sureshot hit; although the other songs are also appealing, they aren’t very popular. Nevertheless, ‘Mahi ve’, ‘Tu kuja’ and ‘Sooha saaha’ are also well-tuned. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics are rich (additional lyrics by Kash, Krissy and Sant Kabir). The choreography by Shohini Dutta in the ‘Wanna mash up?’ song is cute. A.R. Rahman’s background music is superb. Anil Mehta does a mind-blowing job with his camera. Not only are the locations heavenly but they’ve also been captured beautifully, making the film a near-divine experience, visually speaking. Sets (Acropolis, Sumit Basu, Snigdha Basu and Rajnish Hedao) are very realistic. Aarti Bajaj’s editing is crisp. Production values are good.
On the whole, Highway is entertaining but only upto a point and only for the youth in the big cities. Its weak second half and the class-appealing nature of the drama will tell on its performance in the smaller centres and in single-screen cinemas. Overall, its run at the cinemas will not be upto the mark.