Friday, March 13, 2015

REVIEW 323: NH10

Release date:
March 13, 2015
Navdeep Singh

Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumaar, Deepti Naval

NH10 is eerie, scary and frighteningly realistic.

It is the kind of film women who drive their own cars in big cities might watch and pray: I hope this never happens to me. Or worse: I’ve been so close to being in such a situation more than once in my life, thank goodness I got away safe.

The action takes off when a woman driving through Gurgaon is attacked by hooligans one night. The horrific episode leads to her purchasing a gun for her protection (dear non-NCR-ites, Meera’s acquisition is unusual; please don’t exoticise Delhi/Gurgaon any more than you already do after watching this film). Not long after this incident, she and her husband witness a fracas on a highway, and a series of tragedies are set off by the lethal mix of a man’s basic decency, his wounded ego and the knowledge that a gun is within easy reach.

What happens to Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) is every traveller’s nightmare. Director Navdeep Singh – who earlier made the acclaimed Manorama Six Feet Under – has designed his road film as a thriller, but it is also a layered commentary on gender and caste. NH10 examines social reactions to violence against women, the difference between how men and women respond to assault, the intricacies of human relations, public morality, migrants, the assumptions we make about people and the many planets packed into Planet India.

Why do men tend to counter aggression with aggression, while women instinctively recoil and retreat to protect themselves? Should we help a person in danger, if it means risking our own and a loved one’s life? If the impetuosity of a man we love puts us at risk, do we stop loving him?

As events hurtle down National Highway 10 at breakneck speed, Singh injects his film with questions, answers and depth rarely seen in suspense dramas. That is what makes NH10 special.

When Meera suffers the first attack, for instance, the policeman taking her complaint casually informs her that it would have been so much easier to solve this case if she had noted down the licence plate numbers of her attackers’ vehicles. He does not stop at asking her if she did (a legitimate question), he makes it sound like he is chiding her because she did not.

You can sense Meera’s frustration, habituated as women are to being lectured about protecting ourselves. Why did you not note down the number? (I was scared, flustered and busy fighting off a murderous gang, you idiot!) Why were you on a lonely road? Why were you in a crowd? Why were you alone? Why did you not take a man along? Why were you with a man?

The conversation at the police station barely lasts a minute yet resonates with significance. In fact, the spotlight is trained almost throughout NH10 on how women are constantly stalked by sexism, extreme misogyny and security concerns in a world where even going to a public toilet could be an act of bravery. Where if she does not go to that toilet she might be mocked for being paranoid, but if she does and something untoward happens, she might well be asked: why did you? The film later turns also into a disturbing chronicle of caste intertwined with gender and the many contiguous worlds within India, where a jeans-clad, English-speaking woman from Gurgaon city is a virtual foreigner in rural Haryana.

In a film where every moment counts, it’s hard though to decipher that scene in which a fatigued Meera pointedly sits down to smoke, in a moment of twisted triumph. Since her cigarette habit is mentioned repeatedly early in NH10, clearly that later scene is a metaphor for something. Can’t tell what. It does seem though that with rare exceptions, Hindi cinema is now incapable of giving us tough, successful women who are not smokers. Understand this, Bollywood: assuming that all smart women must be smoking is no less regressive than branding women smokers as immoral.

That lapse notwithstanding, NH10 is a hard-hitting film that is completely terrifying in an I-kept-my-eyes-half-covered-because-I-couldn’t-bear-to-watch-it-yet-I-was-dying-to-see-what-was-going-on sort of way. Its impact is achieved with the coming together of quality acting, intelligently used music, concise dialogue writing, impeccable editing and sharp sound design (not counting a couple of places where those tyres on the road could have been toned down and the over-done spell of metal scraping the ground in the climactic scene).

It is a measure of Bhoopalam’s talent and charisma that even when Arjun is exasperatingly foolhardy, it is hard to entirely hate him. Darshan Kumaar’s violent Satbir is as far removed from his turn as Mary Kom’s gentle husband as Chile is from China. He is brilliant.

Headlining the cast is that pretty model we first saw acting in Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). Anushka – who turns producer with NH10 – delivers a stupendous, immersive performance here, displaying immense range within a single role. In fact, there is hardly any Anushka in this film, there is only Meera.

When it goes easy on layering and nuance to focus on suspense post-interval, NH10 loses some of its edge. When it stretches Meera’s exploits in the climax, filling an ominous silence with a single heightened metallic sound, it feels manipulative although her actions are believable. That said, NH10 is never less than compelling. It is from start to finish a thoroughly absorbing film.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
115 minutes

Photograph courtesy:


  1. "Understand this, Bollywood: assuming that all smart women must be smoking is no less regressive than branding women smokers as immoral." This statement is like damned if you do, damned if you don't. How often have we seen a man smoking in a moment of triumph or iconic male smoking shots have we seen over the years? Maybe not recently but historically. Now when someone shows a woman doing it, you tag it with this statement. Highly unfair.

  2. "assuming that all smart women must be smoking is no less regressive than branding women smokers as immoral." -- Great. Change that word smoking with any activites. substance abuse, alcohol, prostitution (if it applies). and it's not only for woman.