Saturday, February 22, 2014


Winding Road

Only in Bollywood would a kidnapper take his hostage on a dreamy road trip through picturesque, oddly empty routes and buy her location specific costumes, instead of shoving her into a dank cellar and locking it.  Of course, the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in at some point and the victim falls in love with her abductor—with extravagant song-and-dance in a film like Hero, with loads of psycho babble in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway.

Veera (Alia Bhatt), the poor little rich girl suffers from claustrophobia and her craving for fresh air amidst the noisy preparations for her wedding, leads to her getting kidnapped by Haryanvi hired thug Mahavir (Randeep Hooda) and his scruffy gang.

Far from suffering the discomfort and squalor of the experience, Veera actually enjoys the freedom, and after some picnic-y moments, doesn’t even want to be rescued.  She talks to herself, sings, dances, pouts prettily at her kidnapper and models her new ethic wardrobe.  She has a dark secret because of which she is looking for escape.  He treats her first with violence, then with exasperation and finally with a tenderness unfamiliar to him.

In the world Imtiaz Ali imagines for the lead pair, personal trauma and class differences can be resolved in a dream home in the mountains. But only up to a point, or, obviously the bubble would burst and the fairy tale would end.

Taking ideas from many films, including Hero and The Perfect World, this film has a few interesting bits—like the scene in which Veera tries to run, but can’t find a way out of the vast void—but no building of tension, no throb of a love story unfolding, even an unlikely one. Not much for the viewer to hold on to or invest in the fates of Veera and Mahavir.  Ali tries to strip the film of typical Bollywood elements (like group dances) and there’s realistic grime even amidst spectacular scenic beauty, but he can’t rid it of its marzipan heart—the age old poor boy, rich girl romance that tries too hard not to be Roman Holiday.

Alia Bhatt’s performance makes Highway bearable—she throws herself into the part with sincerity, and in spite of the cuteness written into it, does not make Veera cloying.  Randeep Hooda just practices his scowl throughout, but that’s the role he is given, and it helps that he is the typical tall, dark, handsome hunk.  In the real world, a kidnapper would not be so huggable. But what a perfect male fantasy it is for every tapori in the audience, just kidnap a pretty rich girl and she is willing to be your slave.  Every time men in the audience laughed when Mahavir growled at Veera, the women must have winced.


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