Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Highway (2014)

In the 2012 German film Barbara, André tells a story of a book to Barbara: how a young consumptive girl of 17 or 18 is dying, has never loved, and decides to live life before doing so: by taking the old, ugly district doctor as she is dying in a lonely night. Highway is this story in a different guise and in the format of a road movie, a highway movie: a love that is born of need and strategy for survival (of the spirit, not the body), and not of mutual attraction. A love that is for this world and its purity, its different ways and stops, its crooks and brooks, and its ability to throw a surprise where you only wanted death. This is what Veera decides: to go on, without thinking of the end. And later on this is what Mahabir will accept: he knows his end is nigh, but he knows his role as the healer, who must give his life for the young girl, like the doctor did before returning to his family, and as Mahabir will return to the home of all.

Wonderfully, simply wonderfully shot, and with a genuine itinerary, the film also peeks into several aspects of society and Indian culture. Hooda's dialect is a pleasure to listen to, for both accent and choice of words: unfortunately, this will be lost on those who do not understand Hindi - and yet, language is a key part of the charm of the film. The film touches many personal chords, of course, so is dearer to me: I have travelled on some of these ways, I have seen the majesty of the Himalayan mountains - and if you know that, you will know why Veera was laughing madly, wildly, freely when the river was roaring past her, in a wild, seething storm - and I come from a stock where many will use the vocabulary that Hooda or his associates use. It is also another feature of the film that how weaved in is the music: there are few songs, but you feel them kneaded inside, nothing patched onto the story.

The one major weakness that the film has, in common with many other Hindi movies: they think the audience doesn't grasp things. What was the need to put all those child actors to represent child Veera and child Mahabir? It is better to leave things half unsaid, to be guessed at (which was easy here): like what Mani Ratnam did in Dil Se with Meghna (Koirala). I wonder how much of such shit happens in postprocessing.

There is plenty of great humour in the film: some of it may not be understandable easily for those who don't know India so well, but some of it is universal. Alia Bhatt has still long way to go to become a real good actress, but in this film she suits her part and plays sufficiently well. It is Randeep Hooda though who lights up the screen, especially the angry Hooda: his confrontation with the gang leader early on in the film after the wrong kidnapping is great in terms of both acting and dialogues. Imtiaz Ali has often given us good films, but none so good as this one: for the first time he has had the courage to not give us a feel-good film, and that is a rare victory won in Hindi cinema.

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