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Out of This World

Escape from civilisation may be an option for characters in films like Highway but lesser mortals will have to confront their own demons right here and now.

There is a sequence in the recently released Hindi film Highway, where Veera, the character portrayed by Alia Bhatt, runs away from her captors only to find herself in the unending salt pan desert, a landscape bare in its essentials, with a cracked, white, dead surface, vaguely luminous under the darkness all around. She gives up after frantically running for a while and returns, resigned to her fate. This is a motif that appears within the first half hour of the film only to return with a vengeance in the second half of the film.

Highway has been both hailed and critiqued for its bold theme and its somewhat not-so-convincing turn of events, a story of two runaways who find solace in each other – one, running away from the inner demons of her home, the other a product of brutalisation both inside and outside his home. One is a victim of unspoken taboos, the other, a victim of the familiar, yet equally harsh, violence wreaked by poverty. In this sense, perhaps it doesn’t matter why Veera opens up before her kidnapper, Mahabir, early on in the film, or why a brutalised and, consequently, brutal Mahabir finally gives in to her complete faith in him, despite his repeated resolve to sell the girl at a brothel.

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