One of the much-anticipated Bollywood films is Imtiaz Ali’s next - Highway Diaries. But the film with which the filmmaker seemed to have skipped his regular A-listers and gone for an unusual casting, raises a lot of curious question marks.
Having seen snatches of the promos, it makes us wonder if the film is about a couple who chose to elope. Ali, who neither confirms or denies the observation, dodges the question artfully.
“Yes, somehow I end up making films on couples running away. I love running away and I am always fascinated by couples running away,” he admitted candidly.
Shot on the breathtaking locales of Haryana, the arid desert lands of Rajasthan and the snow-clad mountains of the Himalayas, Highway Diaries has a unique pair – Randeep Hooda and a girl almost 2o years younger to him, Alia Bhatt.
“Randeep belongs to Haryana in real life too, so I chose him. He plays a Gujjar from Haryana. Alia is fresh and undiscovered and that’s why I wanted her in my film. In the film, she hails from a Pandit family in Delhi,” he revealed.
It definitely comes as a surprise that Imtiaz chose to cast a girl who lives in Juhu, one of the elite bastions of Mumbai.
To this he replied, “Alia had never been to such places. It was a new experience for her. Initially, I was worried if she would be able to adjust (with the harsh weather of the outdoor shooting locations). One morning, I saw Alia mingling with the locals in Kashmir. The locals are basically shepherds, who are nomadic by nature. I went to Alia and told her: ‘What is the difference between you and them? At the end of the day you are coming along with us. We will return to Mumbai while these people will move deeper into the snow-capped mountains’. The statement had all the reservations and doubts that I had about Alia. And she proved me wrong.”
The filmmaker continued to narrate, “While shooting for the film, Alia was like any other nomadic local. She roamed aimlessly on the streets of Kaza in Himachal Pradesh, she lay down on the roads and ate at dhabas on desolate roads. If she was not doing that she would be just soaking in the sun and staring at the lush fields of Punjab. I realised there is part in her which is a nomad too.”
Moving away from the topic of Alia, the director said that the northern belt of India has always fascinated him.
“The rough terrain to bumpy roads to dangerous under-constructed ghats and barren canyons everything has fascinated me right from childhood. My dad often took us out there (to north Indian locations) for summer vacations. We travelled by trains and buses and stayed at our relatives. Travelling has always been a part of my childhood. What is more fascinating is that the scenic beauty that changes as we pass through states. In the film, the tones of relationship changes along with the terrain. The relationship moves from horrific to fascinating to comfortable through the rough terrains of Haryana, the eerie fascinating vastness of Rajasthan to the green coolness of Punjab,” he elaborates.
Imtiaz said that apart from the compulsions of making it a love story, the film is essentially a travelogue. He revealed that he has been fascinated by the food and women too.
“What is common throughout India is that you will notice women working everywhere. Be it in the fields or cutting wood. I asked Alia about what she observed during the journey. She said that she didn’t find the men working anywhere! They are sitting and smoking all the time while it’s the women in their families who are working. Food and clothes change from region to region. The food in Haryana is rougher and water based like their language. When you come down to Rajasthan, it’s oilier,” he shared.
Imtiaz revealed that once his crew was held under gun-point by the tribals as they thought that the film crew has ‘intruded’ into their area.
“We had great experiences from gun-toting nomads to landslides. We were held under gun-point by people who didn’t know why we had come to their land. These people had never seen a shooting crew. Once we explained to them why we were there, they started helping us. You can’t inconvenience them and shoot without their support,” he added without specifying the location where the incident occurred.
Having travelled so much, we asked the director if he plans to write a coffee table book narrating the tales about his journey.
Imtiaz is not ready to divulge anything. “We have a lot of pictures, but we don’t want it to be seen or read. If there is a demand, we have enough supply of material,” he quipped.
Lastly, we asked the director if we will see him making a Hitchcockian appearance in Highway Diaries. He smiled and added, “I have left that to Subhash Ghai. May be, I will ask him to make an appearance in my next film,” he smiled.
Before we go, here are some beautiful behind-the-scenes pictures of Alia Bhatt while she was shooting for Highway Diaries.
If you want to read the earlier part of the interview, click HERE
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