Sunday, February 23, 2014

Highway Review

Highway To Heaven!

Just few weeks back, I happened to escape on a journey, an unanticipated one. On a phone call with a friend at night, next moment I'm packing my bags, next morning I'm away from home to give a break to my mechanical routine. From Bombay to Bangalore. I was with some college mates, though not all regular ones. During my stay there, something struck upon me and I had to leave a day before the schedule. All alone. Without college mates. Without reservation. Night was spent on the floors of train. Judge me, I even cried. Point is, nothing teaches you about life like journeys do, more like unplanned ones. I come-of-age a bit every time I embark on one. Perhaps, this time even more. Because when you are without your family or friends, you are more vulnerable, as you are free and more exposed, to outer world and life. You realize what you've found in a raw world there, you couldn't find back at your safeguarded home. You sit back and observe whatever passes by- that deserted house, that estranged roads and trees- like the kid in the animation that reels before the film to introduce Ali's newly founded production house, whose name also relates to journeys- Window Seat.

Window Seat Films' first film Highway is about one such journey. Imtiaz Ali, in each of his film, takes his characters on such soul-searching journeys where they find themselves, find themselves in each other, bringing spiritualism to their relationship. This time, along with the lead protagonist Veera, he takes us on a journey. And for all the personal experience said, I connect with Veera, not that I'm a rich brat who's seeing the world for the first time but I know what it feels like to experience it for the first time. There's also a sense of thrill and suspense attached to this journey as we are led to follow, or made to fit into the shoes of the lead who is being kidnapped. She gets kidnapped when she's on a escapade with her fiance few nights before her wedding, much like Heer of Rockstar. And just like Heer, she belongs to a rich, tehzeebdaar family, too. Ali has sketched similar female characters in all his films- adventurous, who tries to find freedom escaping the clutches of society. And Highway is solely driven by this nature of Veera, played by Alia Bhatt. Bhatt, perfectly casted, brings in more youthfulness to the character than Kareena Kapoor's Geet from Jab We Met whose chirpiness and carefree nature is instilled in her too.

Imtiaz's first three films (all three-worded titles) could be categorised as 'romantic-comedies'. Yet, his approach of love has been starkingly different than his contemporaries; he gave his voice to those love stories, aligning the romance in it from comedy eternally, where the lovers find themselves in each other and influence each other's lives dramatically. This was epitomised in the lyrical Rockstar, which was his male-character driven film, where he came out of the generalisation of 'rom-coms'. He goes a step ahead in experimenting with Highway. Highway is the female version of Rockstar. That was about a person whom we've never seen in real life; this is about the person who hasn't seen anything in real life. This explains the different style of filmmaking in both. Though both starts with what looks like a video-footage, that appears on screen like a 16mm shot, dividing the line between life and cinema; difference is, the one in Rockstar was a realistic one and rest of the film pure cinematic; the one that starts Highway is what could have been a glossy film like Alia Bhatt's debut one, and the rest of the film is shot real life-like with naturalistic dialogues and scenes in real time. 

But, both have the same sufi spirituality in it. The sufi song in Rockstar says: "Tu hain mujh mein samaya, kahan leke mujhe aaya"; while the one here goes: "Maine toh tere utte chhadeya doriyan", in which she is seen climbing a tree, which obviously she would've never done before, so easily as if it was her childhood game, and hugging it to restore the eternal peace she lost in her childhood. Like Janardhan, Veera, too, has let sufi to take over herself. While he lived in a void the world created for him; she lives in her own created world away from the world where she actually belonged to. She would've been married to  a guy whose Hindi accent tells you that he has been alienated with real world (or India) all his life too, had she not been kidnapped. The kidnapper, Mahabir Bhati (Hooda plays with enough depth), takes her on a long journey, to India that she hasn't seen before. He's the one responsible for the change Veera goes through. She finds herself. "Yehi toh mera ghar hai", she says as she looks at a desolated home in the mountains. In an emotionally moving scene thereafter, we feel how Mahabir finds the love of his mother in the world Veera creates for him with so much care. In a shot in the picturisation of the lullaby that his mother used to sing for him, Sooha Saha Amma Ka, we even see him resting his head on Veera's lap. Soon, we realise, it's a self-discovery journey for both, where they want to redeem their lives from their dark childhoods. 

During this journey, Veera has changed him too. It's when they don't have a plan for what next, he readily agrees to take her to the snow and water in the mountains. And, it is shot in a way that looks like not even Imtiaz had a plan. That's not a complaint. That's how it should have been; we are on an unplanned journey, after all. Long silences, beautiful imagery fills the screenplay (if there was written any at first place; the scenes look improvised) with the story that can be written on a palm. That's where most of the audiences might have given up, but it had me arrested throughout. I didn't want it to end. Like the most definitive journey song from the film, Maahi Ve, which never ends- it just fades away to silence, the last shot of the film complements it perfectly- with Veera imagining her childhood with child Mahabir playing away into a lush field, which I'm sure would lead to Rumi's field from Rockstar.

On the surface, it looks different than any other Imtiaz Ali film, but dig deeper to see what each frame evokes, the film is purely his. In fact, Highway was his first short film that aired on Rishtey TV series in early 2000s (Watch here). He has not only remade his own film with different geography, richer production (and a fully developed closure), but has tried to reinvent himself. And with this journey, like me, I see him coming-of-age.