Imtiaz Ali attempts to move away from the escapist fare to offer something refreshing. Veera and Mahavir represent the two Indias we inhabit, which seldom come together. One hates the other and the other doesn’t even know that people of his kind exist. What happens when they run into each other in Imtiaz’s sufi-inspired terrain? Over a period of two hours as they familiarise with each other, try to bridge the deep-seated fissures, they along with the viewers realise the need to look beyond the superficial differences to reach the core, which is starkly similar. It may not make for a compelling viewing for the typical Bollywood audience used to consistent dose of drama but as a thought process and a slice of mainstream cinema with frills trimmed to bare minimum, it is a road that needs to be accessed.

A slick city girl, Veera (Alia Bhatt) finds herself in a claustrophobic environment at home where money chokes her freedom. Just before her wedding, she is incidentally kidnapped by Mahavir Bhati (Randeep Hooda), a criminal with a scarred soul. Early in the film, Mahavir is cautioned by his own people that he is going to die a dog’s death but Mahavir knows that he is already living a mongrel’s life and holds the rich responsible for the state of affairs. Imtiaz clearly hints at the clash of cultures in the shining NCR’s underbelly.

We have seen something similar in Siddhrath Srinvisan’s independent film Pairon Talle but here Imtiaz tries to paint a bigger picture with interesting metaphors. As the captive and the captor get on the highway, the knots in their minds give way. For instance, Veera literally chokes when Mahavir stuffs a piece of dirty cloth into her mouth, yet she feels a sense of liberation. However, there are pitfalls in this journey. When Mahavir doesn’t treat Veera as a girl but as a deal it rings true but once he undergoes transformation he takes a rather straight path. There is no space for doubts and contemplation. We know the relationship is metaphorical and it is more platonic than physical but still questions cloud the mind.

Veera is better moulded. There are long stretches where she introspects — laughs and cries at the same time. Alia fosters an intimate relationship with the camera and doesn’t allow the stagey portions of the screenplay to seep into her performance till the very end. The narrative gets its best moments when she starts playing agony aunt to the emotionally dense Mahavir. Randeep gets the dialect and body language going but many a time his emotional upheaval amounts to posturing. It is also because the sidekicks (Durgesh Kumar, Pradeep Nagar) around him are just too believable.

After a point, Ali sweeps the obstacles and shades out of the screenplay and turns the mise-en-scene into a remote place which we admire but not relate to. The protagonists become ideal as Imtiaz once again goes in the hunt for utopia. When you can see the destination from a mile you concentrate on breathtaking vistas and moody tunes captured by cinematographer Anil Mehta and composer A.R. Rahman and feel the salt and mist along the way. Or the little details like the sticker on the truck that says “Bin Phere Hum Tere.” Ultimately, when Veera’s family come across as caricatures, it irks because it doesn’t go with the treatment of the rest of the film. All this gives a feeling that Imtiaz has upped the ante but still he is targeting the same audience who bought the candyfloss from him. He should have realised that for many of them it became a documentary on Himachal Pradesh, the moment Mahavir and Veera left Punjab.

Genre: Drama

Director: Imitiaz Ali

Cast: Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt, Durgesh Kumar

Storyline: When the captive gets afflicted with the Stockholm Syndrome the captor softens

Bottomline: He has not reached the destination but Imtiaz makes a brave attempt to extricate himself from the sanitised Highway of Bollywood