Highway turns 5: Imtiaz Ali's road movie explored how bondage and freedom are inextricably linked to travel

Devansh Sharma

Feb 21, 2019 11:50:23 IST

It does not take a while for an Imtiaz Ali film to hit the road. The filmmaker's fascination with travel is reflective in the name of his production house, Window Seat Films. He is probably fascinated by how organically an old thought leads to a new one when one is seated by the window of a moving train or car.

 Highway turns 5: Imtiaz Alis road movie explored how bondage and freedom are inextricably linked to travel

Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt in a still from Highway

Imtiaz's 2014 road movie Highway, that completes five years today on 21 February, and stars Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda, projected the ideas of 'bondage' and 'freedom' in fresh light.

Bhatt played a Delhi girl from a rich household, who gets abducted by Hooda, a Haryanvi truck driver. Right before she gets kidnapped, Alia tells her fiancé how claustrophobic she feels in the middle of the wedding proceedings. The abduction serves as a blessing in disguise, as we find out later, as the forced departure from her 'comfort zone' exposes her to the world beyond and the freedom that comes with it. Buoyed down by social conditioning and the perception of being a 'rich girl', she breaks free only when she is pulled out from a familiar environment that curbs her natural identity.

Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt in a still from Highway

Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt in a still from Highway

In a telling scene, when Alia tries to sneak out of Hooda's hostage, he allows her to run away, challenging her to escape the predicament. She runs with all her might across the deserted land of Sambhar, Rajasthan. She calls out for help in vain and eventually gets exhausted, only to come back to Hooda. This is symbolic of how Alia, stuck in the rigmarole of high-profile life, ultimately gets drained of her 'privilege'. She feels isolated even in the midst of 'well-wishers' who pay no heed to her helpless shrieks. This scene is soon followed by Alia's confession of how her uncle sexually abused when she was a child, and her mother asked her to conceal the truth when she complained to her.

This feeling of being bound by your freedom is also the case with Hooda's character. As a truck driver, he has the luxury of mobility, unlike Alia. While she uses her newfound state to free herself of the throes of social conditioning, he takes travel for granted. For him, it is merely a reflection of his evasive approach. He keeps running away from his truth, from his childhood pain of having an abusive, reckless and exploitative father. For him, travel is also an escape; but not from the evils of society. It is merely a self-defense mechanism to avoid confrontation with his instincts. As Alia embarks on her journey of rediscovery, her confidence rubs on Hooda as well. He then warms up to the idea of embracing his softer side, one that he had long foregone to deal with his harsh realities.

highway 3

It would thus be an injustice to label Alia and Hooda's gradual bonding in the film a product of the Stockholm Syndrome. It, in fact, is a result of two people with contrasting backgrounds, connecting through similar past demons, and the will to overcome them through their companionship. Travel allows them to come closer to not only each other but also nature, and in turn their own primal selves.

Imtiaz does a marvellous job by not choosing to go down the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara road. The topography in his film is not as sanitised as the lush locales and landscapes of Spain. In fact, there is a documentary-like treatment throughout the film as far as capturing the journey is concerned. Most of the scenes are shot in natural light and the movement of the camera is also jerky, because let us be practical: How smooth can a truck ride be? Imtiaz tries to prove the same point through the characters' journey. Their life is no less bumpy. It is only when they embrace the shudder that they make the most of the ride.

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 11:50:23 IST