1. I am an Imtiaz Ali fan. I love his work & immensely respect him as a person. Frankly, this blogpost is nothing but a reflection of my obsession with his stories & how they continue to stay with me.
2. Contains spoilers.
After so long I’ve witnessed a movie, which instigated such passionate responses. Either people absolutely loved it or they hated it to the core. Either it was the best cinematic experience of their life or the worst. On one hand, a reviewer called it ‘Landmark’ & then there was a blogger who rewrote Neruda’s ‘Tonight I can write the saddest lines’ bashing Highway.
I knew that I was going to love it. It was an Imtiaz Ali movie after all with Anil Mehta’s cinematography & Irshad Kamil’s lyrics; of course I was going to love it.
But I didn’t. Yes, every frame was mesmerizing. Every scene was captivating. In the sequence where Alia Bhatt manages to run away from her kidnappers, it was simply Alia running…that’s it! No cinematic crutches like background score et al & yet, that simple, stripped of drama scene managed to keep me at the edge of my seat.
Still, I didn’t love it. I found it a labored watch. The reason was as brilliant as the direction was, as enchanting as the characters were, I felt that the story was flawed. There were certain things that didn’t make sense to me. With doubts in heart how could I have found a place for love in it.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough that the director of the movie, Imtiaz Ali was present there. Unlike, most of the creative people whom I’ve met in my life, Imtiaz is open to brutal critical analysis of his work. In fact, he started the discussion quoting Mahaveer from the movie;
Hum yahan koi tameez dikhane aaye hain? Bikul battameez hokar poochiye.
And, unlike most men whom I know, what Imtiaz says & Imtiaz means are not two different things. So, we began throwing questions & he answered each of them patiently, not once defending his work but just explaining his thought process: Why he wrote, what he wrote? It stretched till 2am & not once Imtiaz tried to end the conversation.
One by one, the doubts which kept me from loving the movie melted away. Let me take you through them.
(I am paraphrasing here because like I said it was late at night & I don’t remember the exact quotes.)
Doubt 1: How can a girl like Veera fall for Mahaveer?
Veera was a victim of child sexual abuse. When she confides in her mother, she ‘ssshh’es her. In the words of Veera, “Bahar aap careful hone ko bolte ho, par ghar mein toh main exposed thi”. And, when Mahaveer saves her from that lech, for the first time she feels protected & safe, like she confides in the end, “Tumhare saath aisa lagta hai ki main jo chahe kar sakti hoon, tum sab sambhal loge.”
Doubt 2: Nothing was happening. This journey could’ve been so dramatic yet is was kept limited to Veera & Mahaveer!
When a girl of such an influential family is kidnapped, it starts a chain reaction. But I couldn’t find a place in the script for that. The reason being, I didn’t want to deviate from the story of Mahaveer & Veera. So, I took advantage of the two part format of our movies & put those scenes right after the interval. Yes, I could see several points of obvious drama but I didn’t feel like getting into that. From the beginning I knew that this movie is risky & that’s why I produced it.
Doubt 3: Why there was no SEX!!! When two people obviously love each other so much & they spend such a beautiful night in a dhok in Kashmir, why they refrained from expressing that love physically? Like not even a kiss!
Mahaveer Bhati comes from a different cultural background. He’s not liberal like us. He feels that he’ll soil Veera by touching her because she so pure & he is so beneath her. I knew that if there was a scene like that, it should be initiated by Veera, because Mahaveer feels that if he does it to her, it is like he is devouring her & not making love to her. That’s why when their knees touch in the bus, it was Veera who did that. It was Veera who climbed on him & slept. Maybe, if they would have spent some more time in the dhok, it might have happened; but Veera would’ve started it & Mahaveer would’ve been inhibited.
Thus, the doubts melted away & o second watch this I found this movie a soul nourishing experience. It was such an honest attempt at storytelling. Just telling a story because you want to, telling it in a way you want to not thinking about anything else. This movie is storytelling its purest form (even the ‘happy ending’ was inspired from the story & not forced by the market forces). I felt that I am eating a perfectly made Cream Pudding without the distraction of chocolate flakes or Oreo crumbs or fruits in it. Just cream pudding melting in my mouth, sweet but not tooth achingly sweet.
After, falling in love with it, I felt a bit stupid. I felt like I am one of those people who need to explained a joke.
As a writer, we are always tutored to Show And Not Tell. This time I felt that maybe, for people like me, someone needs to state the obvious because clearly, ‘showing’ things are not explanatory enough for the likes of me.
So, if I were to make Highway, before Veera is kidnapped, I’ll show her suffocated in the house. I’ll tease with a certain slimy uncle, hinting the audience that there is more to it. I’ll have Mahaveer explain to someone…Veera or a friend that how touching her to him feels like a wolf soiling her.
Anyway, for all the lovers of this movie like me & all the haters of this movie like a certain Topiwala Guy on twitter (Mr. Most Annoying Of All), here are some lines by Oscar Wilde which’ll make so much sense out of our ‘Highway’ trip:
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
No artist desires to prove anything.
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
PS: Here are the links to Q&A with Imtiaz Ali. Courtesy: http://moifightclub.wordpress.com/