A Traveller's Review of the movie Highway

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Jahan se tum mujhe laye ho, mein wahan wapas nahi jaana chahti.
 Jahan bhi le ja rahe ho, wahan pahunchna nahi chahti.
 Par yeh raasta, yeh bahut accha hai.
 Mein chahti hoon ki yeh raasta kabhi khatam na ho."



These lines summed up the movie for me. Imtiaz Ali had to and did bring the movie to a logical end but this movie wasn’t about the story or the destination, it was just about the journey. There were so many times, sitting by the window seat, I prayed that the bus/car/train during my own journeys never stopped. I didn’t want to reach anywhere, I just wanted to keep looking outside and enjoy the ride. I have never posted a movie review here but Highway spoke to me and am so glad Bollywood is heading in this direction. So here I am, writing a review. 

I kept smiling as Alia’s Veera delivered scene after scene that was so familiar - lying down on the desert as storm clouds passed by, running in the vast salt pans only to realise the futility of the exercise trying to overpower nature, hearing the call of the mountains, gazing at the stars or simply cry watching a pristine glacial stream. Looking at a small gaddi house in Kashmir when she screams this is her dream house and runs to cooks maggi - that could very well be me! These are very simple experiences in the lap of nature but strong enough to change you as a person. Imtiaz Ali must be a true traveller at heart to recognise these small details that make travel so enriching and an adept director to even attempt to bring that emotion to the screen.

Which traveler wouldn’t want a house out of which you could just walk into meadows surrounded by high mountains and gushing streams? Who doesn’t want a house in the hills and who doesn’t want to run away from the hypocrisies of our society? Who doesn’t want the luxury of having nothing on your mind and just introspect, like when Veera talks to herself and wonders why she is doing all this? Ali explores the charm of unplanned journeys to unknown destinations and the awareness such journeys can bring. I loved it when Veera talks out aloud questioning why do they go to hotels and stay inside when they go on a vacation and when she wonders out loud “Kaise kaise jagah hain is country mein”?

Meetings on the road are so fleeting, just like Randeep’s brooding Mahabir and Veera’s. When you are on the road, you become friends with anyone who let’s you be. With people you’d never talk to, or even give a second look normally, you’d become best friends during the journey, which is why I didn’t question their relationship much. I really wished they had met in different circumstances though. But I can ignore the sketchy outline of that relationship for everything else that Ali has brought to the film. I can even forgive him for taking the protagonists from Spiti to Kashmir in just a day’s walk. I accept Highway because, as a traveler, I know all journeys might not take you to the elusive happy place but it may be a step in the right direction. Ali has consistently delivered on the road-movie theme and each new movie of his is getting better, darker and more real. Can’t wait for the next time he takes us on a ride.

The movie was far beyond the social message, the locations and Stockholm Syndrome. To me, it was not a love story between Mahabir and Veera. It was about freedom that travel can introduce you to. It was about two vagabonds who have got the time and freedom for the first time to slow down and take stock of things. While Veera relishes her newfound deliverance, Mahabir is trying to beat the demons of his past.

The movie falters because the theme of emancipation & self discovery through travel isn’t fully realised but you will relate to it if that’s how you feel already. Most of the reviews talk about the locations or the loopholes in the plot or the inappropriateness of Stockholm Syndrome in the context of this movie, but to me it was all about the freedom! The travellers out there, you’ll recognise this spirit immediately.

The movie left me wanting for more but I’m glad for this movie much more than the false romanticisation of other travel-themed movies like ZNMD or YJHD. Highway has successfully captured the essence of liberating journeys - journeys into self and to destinations we don’t know of yet. There are few dialogues, long silences and quiet introspections throughout the movie, because that’s how journeys are usually. The long silences are full of ambient sounds, giving a true sense of being in the scene without the distractions of a melodious score, just like in real life. Both, Veera and Mahabir fighting their past and future, find solace in the present, on the road. I imagine, so many of us initially travelled to escape the din of daily life but strangely found ourselves on the road too.

When Alia’s Veera ultimately finds comfort in the lap of mountains, my beloved Himalayas, how can I not love it? The movie left me with a sense of poignancy and a lump in my throat. I could relate to that familiar yearning for freedom, to live a simple life somewhere far in the mountains. Forget the story, just go on the ride! After all, for a traveler, journey is THE destination!

So have you watched the movie yet? What did you think about it?

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40 comments

  1. @mohapatrapratik says- Saw this movie yesterday. More than the maturity and the power of emoting in Veera's deliverance, I found one thing in the movie that also summarizes your exceptional review here - You discover your soul in long, unplanned, liberating journeys- fully led by Nature.

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    1. True, I liked the movie mostly for exploring that aspect of travel!

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  2. Seems like great movie. It is already in my TO-DO list of this week.

    Also, I would like to recommend you 1 offbeat movie Mor starring Asha Takia, It is another beautiful movie shot in north east' picturesque locations.

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    1. Super, have you watched the movie yet? And did you mean Dor or Mor? Haven't heard of the latter, will look it up.

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  3. This review is making me want to see the movie all the more. Thanks for this, Neelima.
    I would like to recommend a malayalam movie- Neelakasham, Pacha kadal, Chuvanna bhoomi (Blue sky, green sea, red earth). It about two guys riding from Kerala all the way to Nagaland. Again the movie may not be exceptional, but every traveller can relate to it. Language might be a barrier, but am sure you will like it.

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    1. So did you see the movie yet? And yes, the movie you recommended is in the wishlist, will watch it soon.

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  4. Now that is exactly what I kept on feeling the entire time. Scene after scene. It was a superb journey that simply makes you want to leave everything and be free!
    Just saw the movie for a 2nd time(certainly not the last time) today and could appreciate even finer aspects of their journey like when she gets completely overpowered by nature sitting on a rock in the middle of a himalayan river. The kind of emotions she dispays are of pure joy and gratification for nature.

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    Replies
    1. True, excellent acting by the actors and also it was refreshing to see the faces without make up.

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  5. One of the best reviews I read so far about the movie. Loved the movie as much.

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  6. My take? SPITI ROAD IS TARRED!!! YAY!! Last time I rode. It was a broken down track. :)

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    1. Ha ha, I am not sure it is tarred entirely. The stretches beyond Losar towards Kunzum is still a dirt track from what I remember. :)

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  7. It is going to be good opening for this movie & as I've listened about story of Highway so far, seems interesting!!

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    1. I Liked the movie, somewhere Ali missed some knots...other than that script, background, scenic places remembers my old memories...watch "INTO THE WILD" my altime fav ...if anyone missed out...njoy the journey

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    2. Into the Wild is a good movie too, but I reckon the book's better. The premise of this movie (highway) was kind of stupid but I liked it anyway! :)

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  8. Loved your review.... more sincere and insightful than any other critic can offer!!! THANKS NEELIMA

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    1. Thank you, glad my review resonated with you.

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  9. yay!! lol, your review might be better than the movie itself. cant wait to watch it :) just back from a soul searching himalayan sojourn, the chadar is lovelier with super pictures hahah, will read that again :))
    ciao

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  10. This feels great. I've got to watch it. I'm feeling lumps in my throat as well.
    This is something very good, what you have written. Because I KNOW how hard it is to write/describe something that's of so much dearness to you. It's literally painful and you have managed it nicely here.

    I second 'R Niranjan Das's comment on that malayalam movie (Neelaksham Pachakkadal Chuvanna Bhoomi).
    It's something that every traveller would like. Anyone who want journeys to end never.
    Similar to Highway, that movie could be accused of mistakes, loopholes and slow-pace as well - but not by anyone who gets the spirit.
    The closing dialogue of that movie is "It must have started snowing in Tawang"

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    1. Have been hearing a lot about that movie, will try to watch it even if I don't understand a word! Wish there subtitles though. :(

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  11. Loved the review and the movie. There are lot of loop holes from 'movie' POV but none from travellers'. I consider YJHD a disaster both from movie and traveller's perspective. We should not even consider it as a travel movie. For me, it is a perfect example of the 'travelling' trend these days, where people visit a place to see the location where latest Bollywood hit was shot, not to experience the place, not to feel the place.

    Highway, on the other hand beautifully captures those moments. I loved the scene where she is sitting on roof top and staring at the vast mountains! One of my favorite things to do :)

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    1. Ha ha, I know right, YJHD was truly a disaster in a way that it created such an unrealistic portrayal of trekking in the Himalayas. Loved that scene you mention and many others too. :)

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  12. Good read :) now I know why u blogged about a movie :p

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  13. Excellent attempt - pathbreaking idea! Captures the essence of aimless travel. Not like 'Money rich and time poor Indians' hahah. For a fleeting moment, i imagined myself on the roof of the Spiti bus! Gawd, now i know why outsiders can't buy land outright in Himachal Pradesh :P
    Trippy music! A.R. will be remembered long after he's gone :)
    In hindsight, you feel how could he leave Ladakh ! hahahha
    Your review's the only reason i went for it, maybe go again
    Danke! :DDDD

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    1. I am glad he left out Ladakh, sadly it's overdone by now. Even I loved that scene in Spiti riding over the bus, lovely movie in all. Glad you liked it too.

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  14. Awesome review, Neelima. I just loved the movie!

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  15. Loved the movie, saw it twice in the movie hall, can`t get over it.

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    1. I know what you mean, this movie lingered on in my thoughts for a long time, had to put the words down to get over it.

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  16. Even though this film is not perfect, it manages to become one of the best travel - films ever made in India. A very sensitive treatment by Imtiyaz Ali and a very true review by Neelima Vallangi :)

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  17. One of the best reviews i have ever read! Thanks Neelima for writing this.
    This was a movie which i SO badly wanted to watch on the big screen, but had to do with an online viewing because of time commitments :(
    I was just wondering if it can look so beautiful watching on the system, it would have been better watching it full screen, esp after reading what you have written. Not-to-forget, the "original" view would surely be fantabulous!
    Thanks! :)

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  18. Thanks for writing such a nice review.you are my favorite travel writer and highway one of my favorite movies, so it's a perfect combination.i just hated the way critics panned it.nothing compares to the sheer joy of a liberating journey, and I think only avid travellers can understand the feeling.keep travelling, keep writing.

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  19. Hi Nilima,
    Amazing review. Mainly I liked silence of the movie which was conveying more and let viewer to enjoy more about place, situations and characters.

    I am also budding solo traveler. Living alone from years, exploring city in which I live alone.. I love it.
    For my first solo trip, I choosed Goa. Was all packed, planned well.. But waiting listed train tickets made me uncomfortable in night before journey and I dropped my plan @ 5 a.m of night :(

    Still after taking lessons from this failed trip will surely go for my first solo trip very soon :)
    Wish me luck to overcome my boundaries of fear and feel Self freedom and independence :)

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  20. Hi Neelima ,
    It's an great movie.. Your review is awesome. A new view toward the journey unstoppable. Thanks for sharing beautiful words. A small mistake (small gaddi house in Kashmir) it is not the scene of kashmir it is somewhere near reckong peo . One of the place less explored by travellers..but place is awesome , I hope one i will be their...
    Manoj Panchal

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  21. Very well written. I was searching for a travel blog, and this movie review makes me feel that your blog is going to be great as well. Highway may have some flaws as a movie, but more than a movie its an experience. An experience like standing in meadows in rain, looking at a lake and clouds over it, looking out from running train at fields and huts, looking above at snowcapped peaks and dense trees below. These scenes can not be captured, just felt. so was the movie.

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