'Highway' director Imtiaz Ali has spoken of a "sense of relief" after his sixteen-year-old labour of love was finally screened.
The film, starring Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt, was screened in London on Valentine's Day, following its warmly-received premier at the Berlin Film Festival a day earlier.
Speaking at a press conference following the London press screening, Ali said: "When I was watching the film in Berlin, I kept thinking about how this story has been with me for so long and how it never went away. For various reasons I couldn't or wouldn't make it.
Berlin was the first time I had seen the film from start to finish and I felt a great relief because I could finally invite people to come and watch this story which has been with me for sixteen years now.
It's finally ready to be seen".
History is peppered with examples of filmmakers plying their trade for years before acquiring the financial and artistic freedom to make that one film they've been dreaming about since their first visit to the local picture house.
Often however, the end result is a disappointment. 'Highway' is anything but, not least because it is such a stunning departure from Ali's previous work: three run-of-the-mill Bollywood romances ('Socha Na Tha', 'Jab We Met', 'Love Aaj Kal') and a story about a conflicted musician ('Rockstar').
The film tells the story of Veera Tripathi (Bhatt), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, who is abducted by a gang of modern-day highwaymen led by the fearsome Mahabir Bhatti (Hooda). An unusual relationship develops between the duo as they travel across North India with an army of cops in hot pursuit.
'Highway' features a cracking soundtrack by Oscar-winner A R Rahman and outstanding cinematography by Anil Mehta, the man behind films such as 'Lagaan', 'Saathiya' and 'Veer Zaara'.
It is a hugely entertaining and engaging film by arguably one of India's most talented filmmakers who has eschewed all manner of conventions, in particular the help of a script.
"Working without a script helped because it's a road-trip movie", Ali says.
"If you're making a journey film you would know better what to do when you get to a particular location. And since I had very good actors, very effective, very experienced, that helped as well."
Both leads are exceptional.
The unconventionally handsome (by Bollywood yardsticks) Randeep Hooda has long been considered one of the most talented actors in India and 'Highway' is his finest moment.
20-year-old Alia Bhatt - daughter of mega director Mahesh Bhatt and British-Indian actress Soni Razdan - is an even bigger revelation after her debut as the annoyingly squeaky clean Shanaya Singhania who inhabited Karan Johar's parallel universe in the awful 'Student of the Year'.
Her turn as the bewildered Veera in 'Highway' is a stunning performance, inspired partly by her own privileged upbringing.
"I didn't have to prepare for the role that much. The similarity between me and my character is that (prior to the film began) we both lived very sheltered lives, neither of us had seen much or done much with our lives.
Basically our lives were quite boring and lacking (in) adventure.
The journey was so overwhelming for me personally because whatever happened, my character's reaction would be my personal reaction as well and that would get captured on camera.
Whatever journey my character Veera went through I went through personally as well. I think it was the most comfortable I've been and the happiest I've been in my life."
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