Director: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumar
Rating: 3 stars
NH10 is one long nightmare. Not because it’s a bad film, but because it includes everything that constitutes a nightmare for most people—a chase in the dark of the night, the lurking shadows of a destructive power and the fear of losing a dear one. Although technically one could call it an action film or a revenge drama, the terms dilute the potency of the plot because NH10 is a heady concoction of anxiety, fear, shock and rage to say the least. Watch it only if you have the stomach for it, you've been warned.
The film, as the name gives away, takes off on a road in Gurgaon (NH10) with a married couple Meera and Arjun (Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam) setting off on a little birthday getaway. At a pit stop in a dhaba, they come across a bunch of men brutally hitting another couple. Instead of turning a blind eye to the incident that is presumably a case of attempted honour killing, Meera and Arjun follow the men only to become their inadvertent witnesses and hence targets. What follows is a nail-biting, heart-firmly-secured in-the-mouth kind of a chase sequence along with beating-bones-to-a-pulp kind of action.
The director Navdeep Singh (much acclaimed for Manorama Six Feet Under) hasn't spared the rod (literally and figuratively) while giving his audiences a taste of the kind of violence that mars some parts of rural India when it comes to matters of ‘family honour’. The film portrays how the fear of bringing shame to one’s family pushes a bother to lynch his own sister or finds sympathy among men in uniform because after all, they’re part of the society when not on call. “Democracy ends with the last mall in Gurgaon,” says a cop upholding the sickening misogyny that rules pockets of North India (in this case) with an iron fist.
Singh has successfully shown the apathy that greets victims in the most vulnerable situations often in our country. Anushka’s character, an urban, high society girl is a grim reminder of the fact that there’s only so much you can push levels of human endurance. How she turns from a fragile city slicker to a comfortably numb slayer is a powerful metamorphosis and it is impossible to not compare her to the bride from Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Barring a few minutes in the beginning, the entire film is the story of a single night and how fateful or frantic it turns out to be.
There are few dialogues in the film and long stretches of silence only interrupted by a shriek or a bawl. The sound effects akin to those of horror films however, fill in when the silence gets deafening. But the performances are cold and powerful. Darshan Kumaar (who plays the older brother on a mission to restore family honour) has barely any dialogues, but his piercing gazes and stone cold expressions tell you exactly why he doesn’t need them. Neil Bhoopalam has delivered a good performance too, but the film rides on Anushka’s shoulders mainly because of the screen time given to her. The actress deserves more applause for her role as a producer than an actress for having put her money on such unconventional cinema. Deepti Naval who plays a village sarpanch in the film and makes an appearance for barely a few minutes makes a powerful impact too.
The story of the film is one of the simplest in recent times, but the direction and the crisp editing make it an experience that consumes you.
While the film highlights the plight of a regressive society, it does little to contribute to a changing ethos, which we would’ve liked. It’s no moral obligation of course, but a little good karma never hurt anybody right? The film also in parts resorts to a few cheap thrill tactics that include dramatic ambient noises, zoom-ins and false alarms that take away just a little bit from the realistic treatment of the film. NH10 deserves to be taken note of because of its sheer nerve for experimentation and being a rare endeavor in Bollywood. There’s not much you take home from the film except a churned tummy perhaps, but if you’re one who likes to tease your senses in the here and now, drive your way to NH10, but be warned of the sharp curves ahead.