NH10 Hindi Movie Review
A man and a woman find their calm, composed lives upended when they get embroiled among dangerous thugs and goons. If this plot sounds familiar, that's because it is familiar. Films with similar storylines have existed since before honor killings in our society. So it's only right that director Navdeep Singh's film should be a fresh take on the done-to-death concept with an honor killing twist.
In NH10, the man is Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam), the woman is his wife Meera (Anushka Sharma), and the thugs and goons are led by Satbir (Darshan Kumar). Satbir is in the process of killing his inter-caste-marrying sister and her other-caste husband when Arjun and Meera happen upon them and try to intercede, which you'd know is a huge mistake if you've ever seen a movie in your life. Thereon begins the chase, which turns the couple's night into a nightmare.
The biggest problem that I've encountered with run-or-you'll-die style films is that they often leave you underwhelmed or feeling hollow by the end. NH10, instead, plays out more like a horror film than a dramatic thriller, and it manages to leave you with the movie equivalent of satisfactory patting of your stomach after a large, delicious meal.
The biggest, biggest asset of the film is that director Navdeep Singh and writer Sudip Sharma don't hold back, whether it is in terms of social commentary or the shedding of blood. As one of the characters in the film remarks, the point where the suburbs end is also marked by the end of law and democracy. NH10 holds up a mirror reflecting the lawless nature of our small towns and villages, where killing in the name of caste and religion is as commonplace as a Facebook application on mobile phones today.
NH10 reflects on how circumstances can change perspective, how a person who's life consists of office parties and road trips could so easily turn into a killer to protect herself and her loved ones. And it does all that with a mean streak of gritty, raw violence that hits you with the force of a 1000 iron rods, which is coincidentally the preferred weapon of killing for the film's characters.
NH10 is smarter, faster and leaner than your average road-trip-gone-wrong film, with a higher thrills-per-minute ratio than you'd normally expect. The film blindsides you every now and then with an interesting twist, interspersed with car chases, foot chases, firing guns, knifings and even stone peltings.
The film's biggest achievement, though, is that it makes you care. It makes you root for Meera and Arjun to make it out of this hellhole alive, well and hopefully with all body parts intact. When they try to intercede the honor killing, you know what's about to follow and you plead with them in your mind to just walk away instead. When they're being pursued by homicidal maniacs, you sit in your seat tensely, with your hands cupping your mouth and your legs twitching and shaking like they have a mind of their own. And finally, when the tables are turned and the hunters become the prey, you perform a joyous little jig with a knowing half-smile on your face.
Navdeep Singh impresses you with his storytelling skills like few directors have in the recent past. He takes a no-holds-barred, free-spirited approach to the material he has, courtesy of a layered screenplay by Sudip Sharma. He slowly, but surely, builds up the tension, starting off nice and slow, then escalating things at a feverish pace till it reaches unbearable levels in the finale, when it explodes in a cloud of gut-wrenching, gasp-inducing and awe-inspiring violence. Singh doesn't fall prey to the trappings of commercial cinema, keeping as far away as possible from forced comedy or unnecessary romantic songs that play to the gallery. He knows exactly what his audience is, and keeps the tone dark and the pace fast.
The performances by the main cast is another feather in the caps of both the director and the film. Anushka gives the performance of her life in the role of a woman that has been pushed to the breaking point. She smokes, she curses, she cries, she screams in anguish, she shoots guns and she finally kicks some serious villainous ass. As one of the producers on the film, she has a complete understanding of the film and it's undercurrent of emotions that range from frustration and rage, and it shows in her stirring act. The degree and style of her limp keep changing, but her performance remains consistently impressive throughout.
Neil Bhoopalam gets considerably less screentime than his female counterpart, but is remarkable nonetheless in his portrayal of Anushka's noble-intentioned husband. He proves to be a highly efficient counterfoil, who holds his own in the film's dramatic sequences. But it's Darshan Kumar as the small-town hoodlum who leaves a huge impact with his brutal performance. Be it his Haryanvi dialogues and dialect or him beating men and women alike without batting an eyelid, he is never less than absolutely convincing and is downright scary at most times.
Imagine RGV's intensely stupid Sanjay Dutt-starrer Daud on performance-enhancement drugs and you'll get NH10, a dark and wild ride into the outskirts of our nation with plenty of thrills and gory action. Not meant for the fainthearted and tailor-made for cinema aficionados, Hindi cinema in 2015 hits a new high this weekend. Go get high on NH10 (metaphorically speaking).