January 25, 2021 11:40:33 am
Somewhere on the highway, Alia Bhatt’s Veera stares longingly at the road, hoping she does not have to return to her morbid life. Somewhere else, on another highway, Deepika Padukone’s Piku waits enduringly for her father Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) to relieve himself at a public restroom, so they can resume their journey eastward.
Just like many other tropes expressed and explored in films, Bollywood has, many a time, posited travelling as a theme with which to advance its characters and the narrative. In both Highway (2014) and Piku (2015), we see central characters metamorphosing. Typically, there is an emotional facelift, a deluge of feelings, and a final dramatic showdown with self.
Much before Piku and Veera, there was Shah Rukh Khan’s Mohan in Swades (2004) who experienced these feelings. Torn between his desire to hold on to a piece of his past, and his work — more urban, Western — Mohan oscillates between the two, oft-held by the roads of rural India, by swa-des.
There’s a song in the film which holds: “Yun Hi Chala Chal Rahi/Yun Hi Chala Chal Rahi/Jeevan Gadi Hai Samay Pahiya/Aansoon Ki Nadiyan Bhi Hain/Kushiyon Ki Bagiyan Bhi Hain/Rasta Sab Tera Take Bhaiya“. Penned beautifully by Javed Akhtar, the song is Mohan’s inner predicament, which unravels later in the film.
The pandemic year was one of uncertainties, and 2020 was a year of almost no-travel. But 2021 ushered hope; it has encouraged travellers to quench their wanderlust by exploring India more. International travel restrictions have made people look inward, for the first time in a long time.
But Indian films have always teased and urged domestic travel.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001) made Goa more popular, and Jab We Met (2007) made train journeys heartbreaking, romantic and achingly real. We danced to Geet’s (Kareena Kapoor Khan) tunes when she professed her love to the mountains in Manali, and wished to be friends with the iconic trio Akash, Sameer and Sid, just so we can have successful Goa plans!
When we imagine ourselves as movie characters, however — looking out from our windows — we are predominantly in an Imtiaz Ali film. In fact, the filmmaker seems to have patented this formula in most of his films. Not just Jab We Met, but even Love Aaj Kal (2009), Rockstar (2011) and Tamasha (2015) have presented these tropes. In Tamasha, for instance, Ranbir Kapoor’s Ved is a corrosive man, sequestered in his thoughts, eventually making peace and even celebrating his journey.
As part of the promotions, Ali and his lead actors had even taken a train from Mumbai to Delhi. “…subconsciously, I am trying to bring travel as a simile to the journey of life…,” Ali had been quoted as saying then.
Director Ayan Mukerji, too, gave us a taste of travel in his 2013 film Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which had the central character Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor, again) admitting that he intends to run with the wind and stumble and fall, but not stop, ever. From Himalayan peaks to beautiful forts in Udaipur — the film had quite a lot of domestic travel and self-discovery.
On National Tourism Day today, here’s hoping you travel safely, and a lot. But even if you don’t, we hope that the highway finds the way to your house — for you, too, deserve the catharsis.
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