2012, colour, 1.85:1, 81 mins
Directed by Deepak Rauniyar
By Derek Elley
Sat, 11 February 2012, 15:15 PM (HKT)
Ensemble Nepalese road movie is scenic but dramatically too bumpy. Festivals, plus niche TV potential.
Nepal, the present day. Ramhari Daju (Dayahang Rai), an army lieutenant, is on leave from his unit in Darjeeling to visit his wife Radhika (Asha Magarati), who works as a maid to a family in Kathmandu. The couple have been trying to conceive a child for some time and en route Ramhari has taken a local remedy in eastern Nepal; but the medicine is only potent for 36 hours. He catches a long-distance bus that is due to arrive in Kathmandu the following day, but it is soon delayed by a local protest strike (bandh) that blocks the mountain road. Also on board are others eager to get to Kathmandu: Pooja (Shristi Ghimire) to marry her wealthy fiance Aviral (Karma), despite having an amorous boyfriend, Ronit (Saugat Malla), back home; the bus driver (Rajan Khatiwada), whose girlfriend, a hooker-turned-club dancer, has a sick daughter; Pratiek (Eelum Dixit), whose parents can't accept he's gay and whose internet friend Vishal (Sandeep Chhetri) has a problem with a transsexual, Deena (Bhumika Shrestha); a mother visiting her daughter to find out why she's left her husband Dr. Prem (Rabindra Mishra); and others. Meanwhile, Ramhari is unaware that Radhika has become pregnant by a lover, Neeraj (Vinay Shrestha), and Radhika's path then crosses tragically with that of Aviral. En route, the bus is delayed by one after another bandh.
An interesting snapshot of aspects of Nepali life, but dramatically a bumpier ride, Highway हाइवे is an ambitious ensemble movie whose reach exceeds its grasp. The first feature of local-born writer-director Deepak RAUNIYAR, after a couple of shorts and work in radio drama, it takes the idea of a group of people on a long-distance bus journey who are all anxious to reach Kathmandu for various reasons but are constantly delayed by wildcat protests (bandh) en route. Into this Rauniyar and fellow writer Abinash Bikram SHAH mix scenes in the capital which are much more conventionally melodramatic than the more realistically portrayed journey; these not only dilute the ensemble feel of the bus scenes but also dilute any tension of the passengers reaching their destination. The result is a rather shapeless road movie that's more interesting for its mountainous landscapes than the passengers travelling through them.
One of the nicest, mildly comic ideas is an army officer who needs to see his wife within 36 hours to try to conceive a child while a medicine he's taken is still potent; but the script ditches the race-against-time idea early on as a dramatic device and concentrates more on the wife in Kathmandu who's found she's already pregnant by a lover. In the same way, the audience is also introduced to other characters in the capital who are linked to the travellers: a fiance waiting for his bride, a gay man and a transsexual with problems, a club dancer with a sick child, a doctor whose wife has walked out on him, etc. These stories are largely melodramatic cliches, and few of the characters (apart from the pregnant wife) are sympathetic in any way.
The best parts of the movie are the bus journey, as the travellers find an inventive way round each bandh that blocks the road and form a temporary community during the journey. These scenes provide a realistic taste of life on the road as well as a set of engaging characters — when not being interrupted by cross-cutting to the capital. Shristi GHIMIRE is especially vivid as the young fiancee on the way to her wedding, Rajan KHATIWADA engaging as the bus driver, and Asha MAGARATI good as the pregnant wife in Kathmandu. Photography of the road scenes is always a visual delight and, with the film itself (minus end titles) barely scraping 75 minutes, Highway at least has the plus of brevity.
ContactSales: Seagull Films, New York (email@example.com)
Premiere: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), 10 Feb 2012. Theatrical release: TBA.
Produced by Aadi Productions (NP), in association with Louverture Films. Executive producers: Lonim P. Dixit, Sameer M. Dixit. Producer: Deepak Rauniyar.
Script: Abinash Bikram Shah, Deepak Rauniyar, with improvised dialogue. Original story: Deepak Rauniyar, Kedar Sharma, Khagendra Lamichhane. Photography: Apal Singh, Jyoti Keshar Simha. Editing: David Barker, Deepak Rauniyar, Rita Meher. Editing consultation: Kimberley Hassett. Music: Richard Horowitz, Vivek Maddala. Art direction: Rajan Khatiwada. Costumes: Sushant Shrestha, Asha Magarati. Sound: Binayak Aryal, Devin Emke.
Cast: Dayahang Rai (Lieutenant Ramhari Daju), Asha Magarati (Radhika, the maid), Shristi Ghimire (Pooja), Karma (Aviral, Poona's fiance), Rajan Khatiwada (bus driver), Reecha Sharma (Kavita), Rabindra Mishra (Dr. Prem), Nirmala Rai (Mahili Gurung), Eelum Dixit (Pratiek, the gay man), Saugat Malla (Ronit, Pooja's boyfriend), Vinay Shrestha (Neeraj, Radhika's lover), Sandeep Chhetri (Vishal, Pratiek's boyfriend), Bhumika Shrestha (Deena, the transsexual).