NH10 Review: A Thrilling Ride

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Anushka-Sharma-–-NH10

I have long been waiting for director Navdeep Singh to follow up on his debut film ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’. Several false starts later, his sophomore effort lives up to expectations. Through the story of a young upwardly mobile Delhi couple’s weekend road trip becoming a journey to hell, he opens up a layered script that explores the endemic issues of gender discrimination, caste politics and in-built prejudices.

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Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) set off to spend a secluded weekend away from their high-pressured jobs but a wrong turn becomes the first clue that male ego might soon become the cause for a dark turn in events. Arjun refuses to accept that the map might be right and he might be wrong.

Singh builds suspense well, from the jam at a toll-booth where Arjun is told about the shooting of a toll booth attendant to the sparse and dusty Haryanvi landscape populated with dysfunctional unhinged characters operating by their own laws. When Arjun tries to intervene in a domestic dispute at a dhaba and protect a young girl from a thrashing, his good deed is met with a resounding slap. More than the sting on his cheek, his ego is bruised and a later opportunity triggers off events that you know can only end badly.

Here are two urban characters embroiled in a private situation in a lawless world and a series of bad decisions only make things worse. Many of these ‘decisions’ are convenient for the script, like how neither of Meera nor Arjun is carrying their cell phone, but at a crisp running time of 1 hour 55 minutes the director does not give you enough pause to scrutinize these too closely.

The most startling thing about ‘NH10’ is that you know this could happen to any one of us. It’s the realism that shakes you and keeps you hooked as you watch Meera run through jungles and down dark lonely paths seeking some sort of help. Along the way she encounters chauvinism in its myriad guises including corrupt cops and twisted local heads of community. Finally, and suddenly, Meera discards her civility for that of beastly vengeance-seeker – and that’s the moment the viewer disconnects.

Another flaw in the script is the poor build up of the bad guy, the murderous Satbir (Darshan Kumar). His companions, however, are deeply menacing. Anushka Sharma’s fear and desperation are offset brilliantly against their roughness. She brings Meera alive as you see her transform in that one hellish night. Bhoopalam, like Kumar is working with a poorly etched character, and never seems fully comfortable as Arjun.

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Navdeep Singh’s attention to detail is noteworthy, such as how even in the most dangerous and frightening situation Meera has the presence of mind to fasten her seatbelt. It’s also a clue of a ‘dangerous turn ahead’.

Rating: ***1/2

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