Reviewing the Reviews: Mostly 2.5 stars as Highway disappoints critics

24 Feb,2014

By Deepa Gahlot

 

Highway

Directed by: Imtiaz Ali

Starring: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda, Durgesh Kumar, etc

 

Imtiaz Ali carries on his penchant for journeys in his latest Highway, that has earned more accolades for young Alia Bhatt than for the director who has made a meandering movie on stunning locations.

 

A cliché-ridden story of a girl who falls in love with her kidnapper—the classic Stockholm syndrome— tries to be profound but only ends up being boringly pretentious and quite predictable.

 

Most critics were disappointed and stayed with 2.5 stars, the highest being four by Mumbai Mirror’s Rahul Desai who was more impressed by the film that any other mainstream reviewer.

 

Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN made a very valid point about the plot at a time when the country is concerned about women’s safety.  He wrote, “The film – a brave experiment on Ali’s part, who uses long stretches of silence, improv dialogues, and characters over plot to drive the narrative – doesn’t necessarily work. It’s meandering and indulgent in many parts, tiring you out well before it’s over… A beautiful mess, but a mess nonetheless.

 

Anupama Chopra of Hindustan Times made a similar comment. “The film posits kidnapping as therapy. It tells us: So what if you’ve been abducted, heal yourself as you travel the undiscovered countryside. Given the horror inherent in the situation, this just feels false and fundamentally wrong. Imtiaz skillfully creates moments that are at once, tender, funny and fragile. But my problem was that I simply didn’t buy into the story.And yet, both Veera and Mahabir stayed with me. They are compelling, intriguing characters. Randeep is extremely effective as the brutalised and brutal Mahabir. I just wish they had met under different circumstances.”

 

Sanjukta Sharma of Mint commented, “Imtiaz Ali‘s Highway is about escape. It is a dreamlike film, complete with achingly beautiful Himalayan landscapes and vast, unpopulated, dusty expanses. At the centre is a pair of utterly unlikely soulmates—a spunky, rosy-cheeked girl of wealth from South Delhi and her captor, a Haryanvi rogue extortionist. What is this utopia? What are they running from? Torment that they have nursed from childhood. Finally, life has opened up, and the promise of happy-ever-after in the upper Himalayas is in sight. It is a sort of meta-love that cynicism and intellect alienate. This is spectacular fluff. But what really rankles about Highway is the central message—and the message is loud and clear—that for a young girl, the escape from abuse in her ivory tower is through another kind of captivity which she begins to love because at least the captor is honest. It’s a disturbing message.”

 

Shubhra Gupta of Indian Express found it disappointing too. “A couple of damaged strangers seeking redemption via a road journey is the premise of Imtiaz Ali’s latest ‘Highway’. The director’s attempt to move away from his trademark candyfloss-ness has mixed results: this is perhaps the most picturesque road movie I have seen coming out of Bollywood, but the story struggles with its twin threads and uneven tone. ‘Highway’ is a patchy ride, with the occasional high spot.”

 

Aniruddha Guha of Time Out was kinder. “Escaping the first half-second half quandary of most Hindi films, Imtiaz Ali marks his return to theatres with a solemn, clearly-demarcated-in-three-acts film. Highway gets off to a good start, finds itself grappling in the middle, before striking a punch in the gut with a moving finale. The last 40 minutes of the film, in many ways, is the film itself, where Ali steps out of the comfort zone of his earlier movies and makes his point about an issue most filmmakers would shy away from addressing in a film with a similar canvas. Yet, this isn’t a film driven by a social message. Instead, Ali crafts a sensual film-watching experience to make a strong, informed statement.”

 

Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV.com was complimentary. “Writer-director Imtiaz Ali has hit a road less taken. The result is a stylish two-hander that is defiantly unconventional, if not entirely satisfying.  Shot on stunning locations spread from Delhi all the way up to the slopes of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, via the plains of Rajasthan and Punjab, the film yields bewitchingly beautiful images. But it isn’t just the visual and auditory delights on offer that make Highway a sensitive, understated entertainer. Its two exceptional characters sway to the kind of subtle emotional riffs that usually elude mainstream Hindi cinema.”

 

Rahul Desai of Mumbai Mirror raved, “Highway is Imtiaz Ali’s fifth film and, I suspect, his first film too. His previous efforts seem like milestones on a modern highway, designed to bring him closer to the movie he really wanted to make. The signs were visible: road trips, eloping couples, destructive alpha males, epiphanies around snowcapped Kashmiri peaks, meditative montage sequences. As exemplary as his filmography has been, the focus has always been on a couple, on relationships, hence making it easier for his work to be flawed. In cinema, there is no right way to portray fictional characters; there are only good or bad ways.”

 

Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com wrote in a similarly laudatory vein, “In Highway, he uses travel like artistry, a narrative form to unfold the adventures of its two leading protagonists learning (and unlearning) a few precious lessons about the capricious course life follows when tackled head-on.

 

Though he doesn’t dwell upon the scenery enough to extract an allegory, there’s both warm familiarity and exotic wonderment to the visual delights he paints before us through Anil Mehta’s majestic cinematography. One seldom acknowledges, forget applaud, the merits of recce after watching a film. Courtesy Ali and Mehta, Highway is a worthy exception.”

 

Vinayak Chakavorthy of India Today sneered, “Is it a love story? Suspense drama? Pop philosophy? Or simply an exquisite showreel for Discovery Travel mounted on a fiction set-up? Imtiaz Ali’s new film looks like all of the above by turns as the reels roll, and in the end of it all you are not quite sure which one it definitely wanted to be.”

 

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