Director Navdeep Singh made his debut with the 2007 thriller ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’, the plot of which was slightly similar to the Roman Polanski classic ‘Chinatown’. Navdeep’s directorial debut had its moments, with the final culmination packing a solid punch. But, the film had a very slow pace which marred the impact, it could have, by a great extent. The director then planned a film called ‘Basraa’ which was to be produced by its lead actor Abhay Deol. The film did not happen and Navdeep suffered another blow with his zombie comedy film ‘Rock The Shaadi’ getting shelved after some portions being shot.
After a lot of changes in the cast and various other delays, NH10, the director’s second venture, hits the theatres. What’s more, leading lady Anushka Sharma has put her weight as the producer and ensured that this film gets a proper release. The glimpses of brilliance that one saw in the director’s first film and the interesting promos of this film makes one look forward to a taut, gripping thriller.
Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) are an urban couple leading a comfortable life owing to their well paying corporate jobs. Their well-fixed lives suffer a jolt when Meera is attacked by a bunch of goons while driving back alone at night. Arjun feels he should have accompanied Meera and feels guilty about not doing so. Meera’s birthday is round the corner and Arjun believes a weekend getaway would help Meera get over the incident. They drive across National Highway 10 or NH10 to reach Basantpur where Arjun has booked a private villa for the both of them. They stop at a roadside dhaba to have lunch where Meera stumbles upon a young woman trying to escape from somebody. Soon enough, the couple realizes the seriousness of the situation when they see the woman being dragged by a bunch of men, with one of them claiming to be her brother. The couple gets into some serious trouble when Arjun decides to take the matter in his own hands and deal with the men.
Though the film has been dressed up as a thriller, it throws light on various issues plaguing the country. The film speaks about the urban-rural divide and addresses the issue of honour killing. It also shows the suppression of women in certain areas of the country. One of the best scenes in NH10 is the one in which Ammaji, the head of the village/ Sarpanch (Deepti Naval) hits her daughter-in-law, while her grandson laughs at the sight of her mother being beaten up. This scene shows that a child can never learn to respect women if he grows up in a household where he is told that it is okay to hit women and treat them the way you want to.
The tension running through the film is palpable and keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats. There are certain scenes in the film which come across as formulaic and get dangerously close to robbing the film of its realism. Thankfully, the deft execution does not let that happen. When Arjun follows the goons and decides to teach them a lesson, without informing the police, you are bound to roll your eyes in disbelief but your incredulity does not last for long as the events happen in quick succession. There are some other portions in the film that are downright predictable and remind you of similar scenes from various films. There is a corrupt police officer who tries to hand over Meera to Satbir (Darshan Kumaar) and his gang. Also, Meera landing up at the residence of the head of the village (or Sarpanch as they are called) appears to be very convenient and contrived. But, as stated earlier, the execution of the written material is so good that even when the plot gets predictable, you feel completely immersed in the proceedings. The characters, situations and the milieu, everything comes across as real and as a result, you feel as if you are a part of the surroundings. The climax of the film is hard hitting and something which one would not expected it to unfold the way it does.
After playing bubbly, vivacious characters in most of her films, Anushka Sharma gets to play a character that requires her to be aggressive and belligerent. With this film, the actress proves that she can play any character with ease. It would be no exaggeration to say it is one of the best performances one has seen on the celluloid in recent times. One cannot help but gasp in awestruck wonder when she goes for the kill as the song ‘Maati Ka Palang’ plays in the background. Neil Bhoopalam is very effective as Arjun, playing the loving husband with the requisite charm. He barely gets any scope in the second half but that’s because of the graph of his character. Darshan Kumaar, with his villainous act, makes you forget his character of a supportive husband to Mary Kom in the film of the same name. With just two films, the actor has shown a good range as an actor. Deepti Naval plays a character that you don’t expect her to. She is extraordinary as always and inspires fear with her portrayal of a ruthless woman. Tanya Purohit is terrific as the repressed daughter-in-law. From the rest of the cast, Ravi Beniwal, Sushil Tyagi, Ashish Sharma, Yogendra Singh, Ravi Jhankal and Jaswant Singh leave a mark.
Navdeep Singh’s direction is terrific. He manages to retain the realistic feel of the film throughout its duration. Even when the plot gets predictable, his dexterous execution does not let you lose interest in the film. Unlike his first film, the pace of NH10 is swift and the plot unfolds very quickly. The screenplay (Sudip Sharma), although predictable at times, is good. The fact that the writer draws inspiration from real life events lends to the raw and realistic mood of the film. The dialogues, written by him, are very good and suit the characters who mouth them. The songs (Bann Chakraborty, Ayush Shrestha, Savera Mehta and Samira Koppikar) have been appropriately used. The song ‘Maati Ka Palang’ works terrifically in the climax. The promotional number ‘Chhil Gaye Naina’ (composed by Sanjeev-Darshan) is missing though. The background score (Karan Gour) blends seamlessly with the film and helps in intensifying the drama. The action (Armin Sauer and Abdul Salaam Ansaari) is raw and violent and works very well with the context of the film. Arvind Kannabiran’s camerawork captures the rural and urban landscapes of the country effectively. The editing (Jabeen Merchant) is sharp and the film is devoid of any undesirable scenes.
NH10 is a highly engaging thriller that touches upon several issues and portrays things the way they are. There are many countries within this one country. The film shows how a young woman from an urban part of the country grappling with the harsh realities of another part of the country that she is oblivious of. Though the script retorts to escapism at times, most of the events come across as believable. The violence may come across as too grisly for some people but for those looking for a gripping thriller steeped in realism, head straight to your nearest theatre.