NH10 is the highway which connects the National Capital with the frontier areas of Punjab. You would get a glimpse of the static life of Haryana districts en route to some exotic holiday destinations in the neighbouring states. However, life in this part of the world is more like the Gulf Stream. You may not anticipate the undercurrent in the beginning, but slowly and steadily you’ll start battling against it. There begins the story of director Navdeep Singh’s NH10.
Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) make a happy couple, which is well off and effectively connected. One gloomy night, while driving alone in Gurgaon (Delhi’s satellite city), Meera encounters a gang of hooligans, but she braves them and escapes unhurt. The abruptness of the event shocks her from inside and thus she is in a volatile state. Arjun plans a holiday tour to pull Meera out of her vulnerable phase. They witness a crime on their way and get strangulated in it before understanding anything. Now, their lives are at stake and the only thing to fall upon is their respective willpower.
Navdeep Singh has a nice way of opening the story, something which he did with remarkable finesse in Manorama Six Feet Under as well. This time, there is no illusionary Yana Gupta, but the effectiveness is more or less the same. The dark underbelly of Gurgaon is quite perceptible in the opening sequence, and the canvas starts unfolding in a fantastic way.
The dim lighting, motionless background, lonely roads and frighteningly huge mansions infuse you with the idea of irrelevance. The entity of a tiny 5 feet something individual has a very little place in such a scenario, and this is the juncture where the fear begins to spread its wings.
Once the couple is out of the mega city zone, a very natural superiority complex tricks them into believing that they can actually combat the crimes which are a byproduct of illiteracy and a violent past. The area adjacent to Gurgaon is notorious for its leaning towards crimes ranging from pick-pocketing to honour killing.
So, when Meera and Arjun face a hothead in Satbir (Darshan Kumaar), they unknowingly challenge the existing norms, which find their roots in Manusmriti and corrupt social values. At this point, the storyteller decides to showcase the bigger picture where people are fighting for the false notion of cultural upper-hand. But, this is also a crossroad where the director has to finalise whether he wants to keep the story as two people’s fight against social injustice or he would like to present a larger perspective. Keep this point in mind as we would come to this dilemma later.
Arjun’s dimwit decision of teaching some highly motivated village goons a lesson backfires, and a rat-and-mouse game begins. This is the best part of the film where heavy adrenaline rush keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. The Mewat region, where a good part of the film has been shot, provides a magnificent milieu as it appears like a space which is full of surprises and hidden secretes. The characters move like serpentines alongside dry hills and through dusty bushes. The terror of the unknown creeps into every frame and you automatically rise in Anushka’s support, but then the story faces the curse of the second half.
Such a nice build-up requires a fitting finale which will take the story to a smart resolution. Here, ‘ittefaq’ (a filmy term to explain the highly improbable scenes) happens, and the story tends to become melodramatic, something which restricts the dreadful night from having the final punch. This is where the director goes the typical Bollywood way. He chooses to enhance the drama part and therefore Anushka finds herself behaving like an actor out of the ‘80s revenge dramas.
Technical glitches make it even harder for the audience to believe the sudden turn of events.
For example, when one of the characters gets chased by a murderous jeep, he doesn’t jump on to the nearby stairs, rather he mindlessly prefers to nosedive into the valley of death. Similarly, Anushka delivers punchlines where it was required the least. It may help the film in receiving whistles, but it dilutes the essence of otherwise well written scenes. And, I am not even talking about the whole Sarpanch angle. The pressure of being overtly commercial is also visible in the scene where Anushka leaves Neil to find a way out of the hell. It doesn’t come across as a natural reaction when the protagonists mouth lovey-dovey lines while struggling for their lives.
The use of gun in NH10 is another interesting thing. The ‘butchers’ don’t use it and the civilised refuse to put it to a good use.
The myth of Savitri-Satyavan has been used in the story, and it adds cinematic values to it, but the cross-reference is not indepth. NH10 also brings out the age old ‘ye sadak kahin nahi jaati hai’ joke, but somehow it manages to hit the right chords.
Anushka Sharma is the central thread of NH10, and she does a satisfactory job, but too much drama in the second half stops her from hitting the bull’s eye. Neil Bhoopalam plays the second fold to Anushka and he is very good in the scene where he impulsively chases Satbir and company to the roadside jungles. Darshan Kumaar looks every bit of Satbir’s character, but his accent doesn’t match up to the expectations.
Navdeep Singh nails it in the first half, but the second half lacks the same fluidity and penetration power. NH10 displays a great potential and then fails to capitalise on it.