Over the past two years our cinema has become loud, overcooked and regressive. This is not to say that there aren’t films that are pushing the envelope, but the films that form the tent-poles of indian cinema, unfortunately, have very little sensitivity left. And all our top stars, even the supposedly intellectual ones have slowly taken the bait of this flimsy form of cinema. Amidst this madness comes a film like Highway.

From its first frame itself this film tells me that this film isn’t about money, it isn’t about calculations, math, economics, business, inflating a star’s ego, touching a 300crore mark, it’s about feeling.

 The first few frames of the film, as the titles begin, take us through the locales that the film is going to traverse.  This makes us begin to feel for them, to begin to live in them as we would a new home, homeland; to get familiar with the monuments, backdrops, topography, mountain tops, snow, peaks, valleys, broken roads, excavated mountain sides and trucks, tires, asphalt, truck-signs. We’re given a taste of the color palette of this film, its pastel hued vibrance. The film makes us feel like we’ve moved to Himachal Pradesh and into certain parts of Punjab and Haryana. We can feel the nip in the air, the cold mountain air in and around us, almost smell that crispness, far away from the musty moistness of the Mumbai air we’re actually breathing, or the air of any other part of India.

 Then we’re introduced to this different style of camerawork that is like a home video and the confined frames make us feel suddenly trapped. Again the aim is to put across a feeling. The feeling that Veera goes through in her everyday life where colors are suddenly loud and noise is prevalent and everyone’s talking together. It reminded me of the song from ‘Midnight cowboy’ called ‘Everbody’s talking at me’ by Harry Nilsson. After we’ve seen her go through the motions like a well wound doll, we see at night her need to escape if only for a bit. And we feel again what it must feel like when she goes on requesting her boyfriend to take her just that one more step further, away from this cage.

 We feel in that night a certain sense of foreboding and fear because of the way they talk of being here without security and a certain future is foreshadowed. Then in that sudden incident we feel what Veera feels; fear. And in the way we see RandeepHooda’sMahabir treating her we feel fear too. We feel anger almost at the way he treats her, manhandles her and this is again important for us to feel at this point. Mahabirbhati’s truth lies in his honesty to the milieu he is from. We feel her desperation, her inability to do anything, an utter helplessness and a certain fish out of water tension as the story unfolds.

 And then we feel helpless to the zenith when she tries to run and ends up running back. Now that’s a low point. Post this, there is no further low. When Veera now begins to come to terms with her situation and now that she has, begins to talk to herself and display her true underlying nature we accept it, because until now the film has made us feel what we needed to. Conditioning, societal behavior expectations, manners all give way to her core nature and this starts pushing MahabirBhati towards his core nature, beyond his conditioning, his angst, his anger, his frustration. When Mahabir struggles with his conditioning as a farmer who’s kind have been taken for granted, exploited for centuries and abused, used, left out in the cold to lick their own wounds we feel for him like we would for a mangy street dog. And then when we see him struggle slowly, against his conditioning and the slow blooming curiosity and liking he feels for this mad girl and her indefatigable spirit, we GET it.

 Highway’s biggest strength is that after a long while it is a love story that is setting up a pace, a look, a sound, characters, a story that purely pulls you in to FEEL, with no other agenda. Interestingly no critic has loved it. And I dare say its because they came to the film with their minds instead of their instinct and allowing themselves to get carried away by its beautiful poignancy. They didn’t allow themselves to feel.

At each point in the characters journeys, we are inside their heads and hearts. Its not just that we can predict them and know them enough to know their minds. But in some strange way I felt like I’m in Mahabir’s heart and Veera’s heart throughout the film, more so Mahabir’s than Veera’s even though it is Veera’s film. I use heart because there is no other word that comes to mind to denote their emotional states at that point in their lives.

When Mahabir breaks down whilst washing his face, after going in and coming out of the hut I couldn’t help crying myself. That one scene so beautifully picked me up and laid me inside his deepest emotional state; this feeling of not being able to believe that this is happening to him, that he could and did have this moment in his life. It reminded me of the moment IshaanAvasthi(Tare Zameen Par) is told that he has won the first prize at the painting competition and just can’t believe it. Then there’s the moment where Veera sits on the rock and first laughs, watching the rapids, then cries almost simultaneously and can’t believe what’s happening to her. Both these were to me, the peak of me feeling for and with the characters in this story.

When she looks, at the end, at the child selves of them both, together in a surreal sense, one feels that their childhoods now stand freed from the pain and free amidst that mountain air, free amidst the peaks.

To me Highway is a film that deserves credit and all the love it is rightfully getting because it is teaching us to feel again; without the noise, the hurry, the math. It is time.

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