A truck driver kidnaps a young girl from a wealthy family, sends out a ransom demand and goes on the run, taking the girl on a ride through six states across India. Far from being distressed, the girl decides she likes this first taste of adventure and falls in love with the lush valleys of Kashmir, the peaks of Himachal Pradesh, and, possibly, even her abductor.
The premise of the director Imtiaz Ali’s latest film Highway seems to be Stockholm syndrome. But far from working against the film, it becomes one of its many positives.
Another gamble that aids the film is the surprising pairing of the unlikely leading duo: the 37-year-old Randeep Hooda, an actor known for relishing intense roles, opposite the fresh-faced 20-year-old Alia Bhatt, who has only starred in one other film (2012’s Student of the Year).
The two were in Dubai recently to promote Highway ahead of its UAE release. At the press conference, organised by Dream Advertising and the Ministry of Events, they spoke about what the film meant to them.
“I brushed it aside as a prank when I was first called for the film,” says Hooda. “I realised they were serious and I just wanted to grab the opportunity to work with Imtiaz. It helped that the script was amazing.”
Bhatt was instantly bowled over by the story and her character.
“My heart just went out to the character,” she says. “What she goes through and the various layers of her personality, the ups and downs... I had my doubts that I would be able to do justice to the role, but I think I have done all right.”
Bhatt, who played a glamorous character in Student of the Year, was slumming it for this role.
“The transformation was huge,” she says. “I didn’t have to iron my clothes, I didn’t have to brush my hair and the worse I looked, the better it was. It was three months of pure rawness. When I came back to the world of make-up and touch-ups, it felt alien.”
Bhatt recalls a brief moment of panic, which arose during a trip to one of the locations. “It was the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and it was really hot and all of a sudden I had a huge panic attack.”
“I felt the ceiling was falling on top of me and the cupboards were walking towards me. Someone called up Imtiaz and told him: ‘Listen, your actor is having a panic attack,’ and he rushed right down to calm me. Nothing like that ever happened again so I guess I was just getting it out of my system.”
The film has been shot on location and Bhatt says that Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh were probably the most picturesque.
“My favourite was Himachal Pradesh. We were at a really high altitude and it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I enjoyed my time there. We would stay up late at night just talking. I have very beautiful memories of that place.”
• Highway is out now in UAE cinemas