NH10 (2015): Navdeep Singh's social commentary on the plight of women in a male dominated society

A taut crime thriller sparked up by Anushka Sharma's performance

NH10, Movie Poster, Directed by Navdeep Sharma, starring Anushka Sharma
NH10 (2015) - By Navdeep Singh
Our Rating: 6.5
IMDb Ratings: 7.2
Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Cast: Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Ravi Jhankal
Country: India
Language: Hindi
Runtime: 115 min
Color: Color

Summary: Meera and Arjun are professionals living in Gurgaon. When Meera walks out of a party late one night, she gets attacked by a group of unknown men. Although she escapes through the skin of her teeth, it leaves her disturbed. Arjun, partly blaming himself for not being there that night, tries to make up for it by treating her to a luxurious desert holiday. As they stop on a Highway Dhaba for dinner, they witness a young girl being picked up by a bunch of hoodlums. Arjun chooses to step in, unmindful of the danger ahead.

NH10 is a 2015 crime thriller film directed by Navdeep Singh starring Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam in the lead roles. The movie also marks Sharma’s debut as a film producer. NH10 is a collaboration of Phantom Films (helmed by Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and company) and Clean Slate Films and is being distributed by Eros International. NH10 is Singh’s second film that comes after a hiatus of eight years following his critically acclaimed Manorama Six Feet Under (2007)—a riveting remake of Roman Polanski’s neo noir masterpiece Chinatown (1974), starring Jack Nicholson.  “NH10” is a National Highway in northern India that originates at Delhi and ends at Fazilka, Punjab near the Indo-Pak Border, stretching a total of 403 km (250 mi). NH10 revolves around a hapless Gurgaon couple which accidentally witnesses the coldblooded murder of a boy and a girl committed by a bunch of rogue villagers in the name of honor killing. Trapped in a no man’s land, Meera and Arjun struggle to save their lives against all odds.

NH10 unfolds like a Kafkaesque nightmare. To begin with, the movie throws a spotlight on the chaos that is Gurgaon—ever busy and bustling with the joys and drudgeries of life. The movie’s opening scene sweeps through the city of Gurgaon during the night reminding one of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver (perhaps, Kashyap, the self-confessed Scorsese fan, would have had some say in it). While in Taxi Driver the viewer is fed with vignettes of New York City as seen through the eyes of the movie’s protagonist Travis Bickle while driving through the city in the night, here we get to behold the glimpses of Gurgaon as seen through the eyes of Meera and Arjun. Gurgaon is just like any city of the civilized world. To the naked eye, it appears to be well guarded by law. Situated in the vicinity of the Indian capital of New Delhi, the city of Gurgaon has fast emerged as major corporate hub that serves as a haven for anyone who wants to live the American dream—one no longer has to live in America to experience the American dream, for the opportunities for prosperity and success abound in India. But, behind the city’s goody-goody façade lies the real world that’s governed by anarchy and barbarism.

Renowned American novelist and playwright Cormac McCarthy has often highlighted in his works like No Country for Old Men, The Counselor, etc. the dichotomy that exists between the civilized world, we think we have built for ourselves, and the actual world out there where the law of the jungle holds true. NH10 is for Singh and team what the Mexico–United States border is for McCarthy: a treacherous corridor marked by anarchy and mayhem. In NH10, we first get to witness this dark, somber, and dystopian reality when Meera is stalked and attacked by a biker on her way to the office. She is advised by the police to keep with her a licensed firearm as a safety measure at all times. Soon we learn that even a firearm cannot guarantee safety, especially if someone is looking for danger, for the evil is omnipresent and can come in different forms. While NH10 will be perceived by most as a high voltage crime thriller, it is essentially a social commentary that exposes the depraved mindset behind the anathema called honor killing. It also highlights the plight of women in a male dominated society like ours.

NH10 portrays the denizens of rural Gurgaon in a particularly bad light. The prevailing conditons in the city outskirts are shown to be so oppressive that even an outsider cannot afford to be a Good Samaritan. The city of Gurgaon has seen unprecedented growth during the last decade or so. Its development as a corporate hub has proven serendipitous for the natives who have immensely benefitted from the soaring land prices. Apparently, their newfound prosperity hasn't changed them one bit, if anything it has only allowed them to be more ruthlessly barbaric. In the movie, a village brute can be seen wearing an expensive BMW jacket while manhandling his poor sister—a classic case of the innnate barbarism overshadowing the affluent exterior. While the evil of honor killing has been prevalent since time immemorial, it was the infamous Manoj-Babli case of 2007 that finally got the much needed media attention. The honor killing of newlyweds Manoj Banwala and Babli was ordered by a religious caste-based council, called Khap Panchayat, in the Kaithal district of Haryana. In a landmark judgment, the five perpetrators were given death sentence for honor killing.

Overall, NH10 is a taut thriller that simultaneously serves as an effective social commentary on plight of women in a typical patriarchal setup. But, unfortunately, the movie spends little time on trying to analyze or understand the major causes that give rise to this kind of prejudice against women. There isn’t anything refreshing about the subject or its treatment. That’s exactly where upcoming Indian filmmakers like Navdeep Singh  need to learn from the likes of Damián Szifron whose Wild Tales (2014) is everything what a daring and ambitious work of cinematic art is supposed to be and yet rarely is. NH10 features a memorable performance from Anushka Sharma. Sharma shows good range and seems to be in the perfect shape for the role, but she appears to be a bit over the top and hysterical in some of the scenes. While her limping and shrieking come across as annoying, she is quite convincing in the action sequences. If Bollywood were on the lookout for a kickass female protagonist à la Angelina Jolie of Salt (2010) or Scarlet Johansson of Lucy (2014) then surely Anushka Sharma would be one of the foremost candidates. The use of a shaky camera in some of the scenes in NH10 is highly reminiscent of the cinematography of the “Jason Bourne” film series. Needless to say, the movie’s music is one of its stronger points. NH10 doesn’t come across as a crowd puller but it will certainly appeal to the sophisticated audiences. The movie is recommended for serious viewers and for those casual viewers who aren’t easily turned off by violence.

Note: Just like Badlapur, the violence quotient in NH10 is quite high compared to the usual standards of Hindi cinema. What amazes this critic is that the same censor board which seems so stringent about the permissible limits of vulgarity and anti-smoking guidelines appears to be completely indifferent to ever increasing levels of gore and violence in the recent times. 

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions by leaving your comments in the box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. While 'NH 10' posters pretty much replicated the poster work of "Eden Lake", I could guess that director Navdeep Singh has conveyed his own social commentary on the backwoods movie type ("Deliverance", "Wolf Creek" etc). His previous film paid a good tribute to Polanski's masterpiece, and its good to see Anushka Sharma taking on such roles. You are right about Censor Board's different attitude towards cuss words compared to the on-screen violence.

    1. Thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts... Navdeep is a very talented filmmaker and Indian cinema is in a need of such creative talent... let's hope he doesn't have to wait for so long for his next assignment. The comparisons to films like Deliverance and Wolf Creek are quite apt. As to Eden Lake, I am afraid I haven't seen it yet. Btw, I would love to hear your thoughts on the dystopian depiction of the city of Gurgaon. Also, how relevant did you find the comparison between NH10 and the Mexico-US border?

    2. Personally, I had visited Gurgaon only one time, and my experience was restricted within the plush world of malls. But, the dialogue, where the police officer says something like "the government or democracy has no place here beyond those malls" is the milieu I could connect it with any rapid developing Indian city, where the unsophisticated, old-school thinkers live side by side with the sophisticated people, who aren't obsessed about patriarchal society. The same story could be set in Tamil Nadu or Bihar. I didn't think about the Cormac McCarthy connection when watching it, but after reading your review I could find a relevance. Our Indian film-makers should also be careful that these portrayals of countryside doesn't masquerade into a stereotype.

      A decade back, Tamil films started to vividly portray some of the caste-based or politics-based violence in our city, Madurai. Now this has become a separate genre, and eventually a stereotype. Even some of our Tamil media gives prominent attention to the violent act happened in & around Madurai.

      But, these violent movies showcasing dark truths about the countryside or developing cities (even the stereotypical ones) have mostly been commercial hits in Tamil cinema (even Anurag Kashyap cited the 'Tamil triumvirates' as his inspiration for 'Gangs of Wasseypur'). Do you think such violent sagas guarantee box office collections in Hindi cinema?

    3. While I don't see such violent subjects getting developed into a commercially viable sub-genre, I can tell you that the social commentary in NH10 is what makes it look different and authentic. Honor killings are more common in areas like Rohtak but as such it cannot be ruled out in elsewhere in Haryana.

      If you ask me then I can tell you that Gurgaon's unplanned and unprecedented growth during the last decade or so is quite alarming and although the law and order is good in the posh areas during the day, the same cannot be guaranteed (and expected) at all times and all places. So, at the end of the day, our safety is our own guarantee!

  2. Violent movies are a big no for me. They add up my stress. Thanks for the review. Shall avoid it, due to violence quotient.

  3. NH10 is pretty violent but this does have an A certificate. Some violent scenes in the film are hard to watch, but it needs to be shown to show how bad things really are. Real violence like this does happen, and by "hiding" it or cutting out the scenes, we'll never get any social momentum.

    1. Well, I couldn't have agreed more... my only concern is that the censor board ought to be balanced in its scrutiny.


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