Veering through genres as only Bollywood can, Imtiaz Ali’s Highway is nothing if not erratic in its narrative delivery — though its fascinating thematic concern remains fixed throughout.
Rigorously caste-determined India is an appropriate setting for the film, which concerns Veera (Alia Bhatt), a wealthy industrialist’s daughter taken hostage by bandits led by charismatic Mahabir (Randeep Hooda).
Initially horrified, Veera acclimates to her captivity and begins to feel liberated from the oppressive responsibilities that came with her moneyed, regimented lifestyle.
While the tale of a 1 percenter finding profundity among the common people is hardly new, the anxious yearning Bhatt brings infuses this familiarity with urgency.
Chattering away at her captors, making herself helpful, Bhatt’s Veera is characterized by ebullience. Unfortunately, after establishing its narrative within the realm of plausibility, Highway becomes increasingly romanticized, with Mahabir and his buddies incongruously turning into a bizarrely kind bunch of bandits (rather unconcerned with ransom money!) as he and Veera fall in love. So long, social commentary.
No one entering this commercial Bollywood picture would expect a fiercely gritty portrayal of class conflict, but the degree to which Highway candies up Veera’s slumming toward freedom feels so fundamentally out of touch with the realities of poverty that it skirts into offensiveness.