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Sunday, February 23, 2014

The 'Highway' Less Travelled

I decided to write about the movie as long as it is fresh in my mind. Now the precursor to the movie is also important because I am in a completely new city, all by myself and I know not a single soul here. So after gallivanting around the entire day, on a whim I decided to catch the movie because sitting around in the tiny room at the guesthouse seemed too depressing.

This is my first Alia Bhatt movie, my first Randeep Hooda movie too and second Imtiaz Ali movie. While I was coaxed, cajoled and finally scolded into watching his ‘Jab We Met’, somehow this one caught my eye from its very first promotions. Maybe it was because of the ‘score-r’, or maybe it was just the name itself that got me intrigued – ‘Highway’.
I have always been a fan of the road movie genre.

 Hemmingway points out that Huckleberry Finn is the basis of all American Literature. I would also like to say that Huckleberry Finn is the reason why we have the Road Movie genre in the first place.

I am a sucker for Road Movie and it all started with Huckleberry Finn.

It is exhilarating to see Ali experimenting with this genre in Bollywood. His bold choice of certain issues is applaud worthy.  In a way all his other works might be termed as road movies in a lighter sense, barring Jab We Met, which we can definitely categorise into a Road movie, but Highway falls into the category right from the beginning, starting from its name.

So here goes the disclaimer warning because spoilers are included here. Let us talk about Stockholm syndrome. How many of us know what it is? Apparently not very many, because the people in the hall found it hilarious to the point that they started laughing and making jokes when Veera was talking about her deep dark secret to her abductor, Mahavir. Apparently, child sex abuse is funny as well. Well, the syndrome very much exists and it was first recorded in Stockholm when some of the hostages at the bank that was being robbed where they were kept prisoners started empathizing with their abductors after being held for 5 days.

While I admire Ali’s bold choice of portraying such a ‘road less travelled’ issue in Bollywood, I do think that his portrayal could have been better. Once the movie was over you could feel that he was scrambling to establish the Stockholm Syndrome early on in the movie. The introduction left me wondering a bit. Or maybe it was Ali’s intention to make the viewer’s participate actively and make up their own versions as to what it was that made Veera feel stifled and feel all choked up. Scientifically the Stockholm Syndrome can be established when the abductor and abductee spend quite a few days in close quarters. In this case Ali leaves it unspecified, but we can put it at an estimate of two days from the action. This is where I think Ali took a little too much liberty.  He tries to cover it up by making Veera talk out loudly to herself when she is wondering why is it that she is not feeling very tensed and talking a lot, more than her usual self. But we can also defend this portrayal if we say that this is the result of the shock of being abducted and being in a situation that Veera never dreamed of being. Shock can affect people in various ways, some people just stop interacting, while some just keep on talking.

The imagery of choking and suffocation is very frequent and is recurring in the movie.  We know that Veera in her life feels clogged and throttled in her uberous glam lifestyle.  As we delve into Veera’s dark secret, this feeling becomes much more intense and maybe is the trigger of her feeling so. While being abused, her screams were stifled and subdued by her perpetrator; even when she spoke about it to her mother she was made to hush it up.  This feeling is mirrored when she is literally gagged and tied up, first at a safe house and later at the back of the truck.

I would not term it as a romantic movie, because both the abductor and the abductee going through the Stockholm syndrome, experience an emotional bonding, which is not necessarily romantic. I felt the relationship was based on having found someone who understands the other rather than a romantic one. Like when Mahavir lashed out at Veera when she refuses to let go of him and clings on to him ever more strongly asking her if her plans included him marrying her and have kids with him. To this Veera simply answers that she has no plans in general and instead thanks him for taking her away from a place that was suffocating her. The scene before the climax, we see Mahavir choking with emotions for his mother; he even calls out to his mother when Veera holds him and takes him in her arms. There is nothing romantic in this scene. Mahavir calms down when a female body embraces him, maybe he connects the embrace with the familiar form of his mother. We could say that Veera is the object of his transference.  And Veera’s infatuation, I don’t even know if infatuation is the appropriate word with Mahavir, is only because she thinks she has found someone who will let her be herself; who found her a house in the hills. She feels free from all the obligations and responsibilities that were crushing her soul in her home. When she first embraces Mahavir, it was to say thank you from taking me away from that suffocating life, something that she admits in the family drama scene, that she had never felt freer when she was kidnapped.

The cinematography by Anil Mehta is breathtaking and as a road movie it fits the bill perfectly. Highway takes you all the way from Delhi to Kashmir, via Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal. So keep your eyes glued for the breathtaking beauty that India is.

The ending was very dilute for me. At best Ali should have finished with Veera breaking down on her way to ‘nowhere’ after leaving home. Instead he chose the road always travelled by showing Veera as a self-sufficient ‘free’ woman, working somewhere up in the hills as a supervisor in a canning factory. It’s as if Ali takes you to this great height with great care only to let you fall in the end.

I might have been a little harsh but I will not write off this movie. I would give it a 3 for effort and I think overall Ali came up with quite a ‘hatke’ script for a Bollywood movie.

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