What to Expect
Fancy an unstoppable, brilliantly narrated thriller? Then look no further than director Navdeep Singh’s second venture in NH10. Singh, who deftly and consistently employed minimalism his first film, takes his winning hand at subtlety to effectively create a crackling, tension-riddled onscreen atmosphere that has potential to shake the strongest of souls. The movie – a combination of mostly sharp direction, impressive performances and terrific cinematography – depicts the socioeconomic chasm between the two India’s that exist cheek by jowl across large swathes of the country. More than anything else, however, it urges us to question ourselves on the lengths we can go to; the limits we could cross to survive.
What’s it About?
Meera (Sharma; Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam; No One Killed Jessica) are a young, happily married couple from Bangalore, now living in Gurgaon. The otherwise capable and fiercely independent Meera gets her first headlong with fear when she’s attacked by a bunch of goons come midnight post a party. She escapes, but her state-of-mind continues to exist in volatility. In order to get Meera over her trauma Arjun gets her a gun license and plans to take her away to a holiday resort to celebrate her birthday. On their way, they witness a crime, and before they know what hit them, they’re sucked into a vortex, where nothing can save them.
Their lives, now at stake, now depend on only one desperate virtue: their willpower.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The plot, not as complex this time round relative to Singh’s debut Manorama Six Feet Under, is still gripping enough to drive you down to the edge of your seats. His obsession with the detailing of his characters, as with the first film, remains intact. A perfect example would be the superiority complex that he hands his protagonist: it is this very complex that deludes them to believe the education they’ve acquired can help combat crimes caused by illiteracy or psychological backstories. Another wicked – and highly realist – tendency Singh’s given, this time to Bhoopalam’s Arjun, is the classic male ego, which pushes him to one-up the goons – an attempt that unsurprisingly backfires, resulting in the inevitable game of cat-and-mouse. Refusing to let go, the very ego puts the lives of himself and his wife Meera in grave danger.
Focussing on topics which are the order of the day within India – violence against women, intercaste marriages, social inequalities and corruption – the movie attempts to take a realistic route. It, however, doesn’t strive hard, ending up sharing with its audience but glimpses. The glimpses that are packed in are quite a few, thankfully, rightfully turning it into a gut wrenching horror thriller with an ominous ring of truth. Quite a few steps short of its potential otherwise, the brilliant start of the film doesn’t receive its rightful payoff with its culmination, which then takes form of your mainstream Hindi movie by its last frame. Thankfully, it doesn’t consist of the usual tropes found in mainstream films – the inclusion of a barrage of original songs et al; it stays as far from it as possible. Sudip Sharma’s (Superstar) writing employs minimalist dialogue, using the dynamism in the emotions he employs instead to hit home with the audiences. There’s anger, successfully enhanced by the bloody action on screen. There’s love, fear and sorrow, successfully employed to help the protagonists feel grounded. And then there’s the inevitable payoff with revenge – the final highlight in the writing.
For its minimalist dialogue used, there’s a questionable hitch: the use of one-liners by Sharma’s Meera, used especially in redundant situations. I’ll also call out on the cheesiness in the classic intimate moment the protagonists share before one of them parts to find help. The cherry on the cake though is the cliché twist-in-the-tale involving the village sarpanch (elected head). On occasions when the couple is chased, there are a few questionable lapses in logic.
Fortunately for the film, there’s more good than harm done by the makers in their making of it. Filled with interesting allegories, NH10 does make you think about societal structure and the accountability of civilisation in the stratosphere of crime. The gun, for example, is an otherwise superficial object in the scene of things, but fills in for an important school of thought: the ‘killers’ don’t wish to use it; the civilized world refuses to put it to use for a genuine cause. On the whole otherwise too, the film ends up being a taut ride; one that scares us by providing us an intricately detailed underbelly of a universe. A particular conversation involving a police officer who refers to Gurgaon ,the concrete jungle, as a badhta baccha (growing child) sends chills down your spine; never mind it not adding up logic-wise in the wider scene of things. He adds that by the end of the last mall of the city, one witnesses the end of democracy and respect for the law. A commentary on the state of affairs, the very petrifying spine of the claim does manage to highly affect one.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Anushka Sharma’s performance steals the show. She is the central point of focus and rightfully so, for she does a fabulous job with her character. We cannot help but feel sympathetic towards her, whether she’s beaten down, on the run, or powerless to a point. In fact, such is the strength of the character and her performance that her inevitable defiance, when she takes complete control, makes us cheer for her. We can feel the terror she feels or her frustration when she screams her lungs hollow at the paralyzing situation. Neil Bhoopalam is a likable actor, but falls short due to a lack of the requisite emotional depth in the character arc. As a positive, hperfectly embodies his character trait of a man with a dangerous level of egotism. Darshan Kumaar is terrific as Satbir and looks every bit the character. Drowning completely into the role of his extremely violent character, he successfully brings out emotions of disgust within the audience. it is the very spectacular performances of the performers that make the essence of the script come alive.
Five minutes into the movie and you are sucked into the story’s menance-riddled atmosphere. Singh’s direction, Merchant’s editing and Sharma’s performative dynamics are a lethal combination you cannot miss. Although the rather detailed visceral violence isn’t for the faint-of-heart, through it the film but gives us a glimpse of the stark socioeconomic reality we tend to forget. It’s petrifying more often than not on this road not taken, which is exactly why NH10, despite a few unfortunate missteps, is a trip you won’t forget days after you’ve finished watching it.
Watch the trailer
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