Movie Review: Highway (PG13)

Veera (Alia Bhatt, above), the daughter of a rich industrialist, forms a bond with her kidnapper during a road trip across north India.

Review: Drama

133 minutes / Now showing / Rating: 3.5/5

The story: While Veera (Alia Bhatt), the daughter of a rich industrialist with political connections, is out on a late-night drive with her fiance, they get caught in a robbery in progress. She is kidnapped by a group of masked men, led by hardened criminal Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), who takes her on a road trip across north India as ransom demands are made for her release.

Director Imtiaz Ali's latest movie is raw and real and hits you in the gut in the second half after a slow first half.

It is about the Stockholm syndrome, in which the hostage forms a bond with the kidnapper, and also about life, asking questions about the double standards of India's high society. On yet another level, it is an intense exploration of childhood sexual abuse and other forms of domestic violence.

These are not easy issues to address in any film. Such portrayals often tend to be graphic. In Highway, however, the treatment is nuanced.

The subjects are explored through extended dialogues and monologues in the film, rather than through showing them on screen.

By turning his kidnapping drama into a road trip, the director takes viewers on a ride through real India.

On the run, Veera and Mahabir end up staying in run-down homes which have seen better days.

The bond between the kidnapped and the kidnapper develops slowly and Veera begins to relish the sense of freedom she starts to feel as they drive through many small towns.

Mahabir's gruffness is the perfect foil for Veera's inherent peppiness, the contrast working well as she tries to soften the tough criminal.

Young, refreshing and incredibly talented, Alia Bhatt, 20, who is acting in only her second film, pulls off an intensely complex role that is challenging even for more seasoned actresses. In an industry which relies largely on playback singers, she can even sing her own songs.

She holds the film all on her own in the last 25 minutes. Her extended dialogues could have fallen flat, but she has such a powerful screen presence that she makes it impossible for the viewer to look away. Expect her to make a clean sweep of the Best Actress awards at India's multiple film award shows.

With its lush cinematography and impressive acting, this is likely to rank among Bollywood's strongest films of the year.

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