Starring: Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumar, Deepti Naval
Directed by Navdeep Singh
NH 10 kicks off to a very promising start. Gurgaon by night is at its moody, quixotic best. But all’s not quite well in this seemingly all-right world. A young, educated, professional Meera (Anushka), travelling in her car at night after a party, is accosted by goons. The scene feels way too close for comfort and sends a chill down the spine: how one’s safety can be ever so tenuous, how danger can be lurking in unsuspected corners. NH 10 doesn’t let up on this sense of doom and menacing atmosphere and keeps the viewer on the edge. But not all is fine with the thriller either. The twists and coincidences feel way too convenient, more so if you are good at second-guessing.
A weekend journey of Meera with her husband Arjun (Neil) goes hopelessly wrong when they witness a crime; in a jiffy, their lives turn upside down. Sadly, the film turns turtle as well. From here on, it begins to unravel and comes totally undone at the climax.
Initially, after Meera’s perilous encounter, you hear a cop talk about Gurgaon: “Badhta bachcha hai, kood lagayega (it’s a growing kid, it will leap and bound).” It’s a line which holds the immense promise that the film might offer an interesting perspective on the socio-cultural flashpoint that is the NCR, be it Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida or Faridabad. Where a modern, liberal and liberated Bharat rubs shoulders with a conservative, old-fashioned India on whose farmlands the symbols of development—malls, multiplexes, offices, condominiums and gated communities—have sprung up.
However, the film loses out on complexity by opting for a way too easy narrative: the rural brutes vs us, the city slickers. It plays on, and adds to, the fears and anxieties of the urban middle class. The constitution and democracy end at the malls, a character says. Wish it was so black and white! If on the urban side of the divide there is an odd office colleague who, in a tackily executed scene, comments on how women employees have it easy with bosses, on the other side in the rural jungle, almost every single face (save those of the victims), even the villager giving you directions, is sinister as hell. Welcome to Haryana, the new Bihar of Hindi cinema.
The weight of social commentary doesn’t sit so well on this thriller’s shoulder. Honour killings, khaps and patriarchy no doubt reek of malevolence but the film merely uses them as a background, to create a narrative of relentless horror rather than integrate them well in the protagonist’s own rite of passage. There are token mentions—of the skewed female-male ratio, of caste and gotra issues. But Meera, despite her abhorrence for a word like ‘randi’, seems curiously unmoved. When she does come alive and roar and scream it is more as a zakhmi aurat driven by a very personal vendetta than by a higher motive of taking the mickey out of the larger evil of patriarchy.