NH10 is National Highway 10, which runs from Delhi, through Haryana and into Punjab. And the film is so named because the protagonists are using it to get to their vacation retreat, when they take an unexpected detour. This is a not a “road film”, though.
Arjun (Bhopalam) and Meera (Sharma) are a young couple, living and working in Gurgaon. To get her mind off a recent incident, Arjun arranges a vacation getaway on the occasion of Meera’s birthday. They are traveling on NH10 and stop for a bite at a roadside dhaba. Here they witness the abduction of another couple, and Arjun steps in to intercede . . .
NH10, simply put, is about two urban yuppies caught up in a roadside crime. The plot rings true because it happens in the state of Haryana, made famous for its honor-killing Khaps and the low ratio of females-to-males (a character actually alludes to this in the film “there is a dearth of women here, anyway”). Besides which, if you are a woman and have lived or travelled in Delhi’s NCR region (or in India) it is not much of a stretch to put yourself in Meera’s shoes, driving along by yourself on a relatively quiet road with passing motorcyclists leering in suggestively through the windows. Such is the ground reality. Such are the men.
I was on tenterhooks for most of NH10; it is tension-filled and suspenseful. You know from the trailer that something bad will happen, and you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for it and dreading it at the same time. The build-up is superb, and the first half of the film is steeped in atmosphere and some very well executed cat-and-mouse chases.
Just as in “Manorama 6 feet under” director Navdeep Singh creates his settings and characters with skill. Meera and Arjun drive on dusty roads, and there are men in little groups stretched out on string cots, or a curious child staring from his perch on a low wall. This is such a familiar street-side scenario in India – there are always men around, lounging, leering. The protagonists are easy to relate to, because they are regular city folk. You like them; you are vested in their well-being, rooting for them in this nightmarish situation.
Anushka and Neil do a very good job as the young, in-love, husband and wife. Meera’s character is sketched out pretty well, a young woman reflecting on the standard reply given to women, who are victims of crime – “Such things will happen. Why go out alone?” The bad guys are believable too – scruffy looking young men roaring about in a large, dusty SUV. Darshan Kumaar (whom we saw in Mary Kom) fits the role of Haryanvi hothead Satbir. Ravi Jhankal, another great actor, plays Mama Fauji, who eggs on Satbir and his friends.
NH10 is very violent and gets pretty gory. There are some scenes which depict brutality towards women also. The film has an A certificate from the Indian Censor Board and rightly so. However, even after the A certificate, NH10 was stalled for release because the censors wanted the violence toned down. I will say that some scenes were hard to watch, but I’m against the “toning down”. This reflects ground reality and must be shown raw and unedited, because, and I quote here from a NDTV discussion on the Nirbhaya case, “How will we know Red Riding Hood’s plight unless we understand how big and bad the wolf really was?” The reality is far more unpalatable than any film ever could be.
NH10 is a must watch. Highly recommended.
Kidwise: Owing to the violence, this is unsuitable for children.