NH10 – Highway to Hell

NH10 is a hard-hitting, realistic film but one that, notwithstanding its ‘A’ certification, goes over-the-top at times in its many graphic scenes of violence.

Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) are a young married couple from Delhi. Out for a party one night, Meera gets a call from her office and decides to go back, leaving Arjun at the party. On the way, she is harassed by some hoodlums who shatter her car window. Traumatised by the incident, she agrees to let Arjun get a gun for her protection.

Some time later, the couple plan to go away on a short break travelling along NH10, the national highway that passes through Gurgaon and the rest of Haryana, eventually ending at the Punjab border with Pakistan. They stop at a roadside dhaba for lunch, where a young woman comes up to Meera, beseeching her for help. Meera refuses and walks away. Minutes later, a gang of men turn up and start beating the woman and her companion before bundling them into a jeep. When Arjun tries to intervene, he is punched by Satbir (Darshan Kumar) who tells him the woman is his sister.

Arjun and Meera now continue on their journey, with Arjun seething with anger. When he sees the same jeep taking a divergent path, he gives chase, over Meera’s screeching. This turns out to be a case of an “honour” killing. Arjun and Meera are caught by the killers and somehow manage to give them the slip, but keep running into the jungles till well into the night. They get caught again and Arjun is stabbed in the leg. Somehow they escape again. Meera tells Arjun to stay put while she goes to get help. Rebuffed by the village police, she wends her way to the sarpanch’s house to ask for help. The sarpanch turns out to be Ammaji (Deepti Naval) whose son Satbir killed his own sister – her daughter – in the honor killing. Meera escapes once more but finds that the goons have meanwhile killed Arjun. Seeing “bloody whore” written in his blood on the wall triggers off something in her and she returns to the village on a merciless mission to kill each of the four hoodlums.

Indisputably NH10 is tautly made; it would have sent the chills down the spine of every woman who watched this movie. I don’t mind admitting I was hunkered down in my seat, peeping out between my fingers at the gory murders of Pinky and Mukesh. Brutal “khap” or honour killings are shamefully very much a part of modern day India; as Ammaji tells Meera about her own daughter:” Jo karna tha so karna tha.”No law and order authority seems able to control this archaic way of thinking; indeed, in twisted logic, one of the policemen actually quotes Manu’s law at Meera. Not that this is confined to the villages; the so-called intelligentsia is as much to be blamed for the warped thinking on a woman’s rights, feelings and place in society. Education in India is a misnomer, a means to get a degree and therefore a job; there is no attempt on the part of educational institutions to create awareness or encourage open thinking.

Time to pick holes in the script. The film is a tad tedious in the beginning. What’s all this about some gibberish said in Tamil – directorial bid to cover all bases?? Arjun’s character is brave but extremely foolhardy; virtually everybody who lives in Delhi/Gurgaon knows better than to chase a gang of hoodlums alone or for a woman to travel alone late night. Nonetheless, it is easy to say that he should have shot the whole lot of them when he had the chance, but the human mind freezes in situations it is unfamiliar with. Everybody reacts differently when faced with adversity and so we have Meera on the other hand, hitherto petulant, shrill and a bit of an ass frankly, who suddenly metamorphs into this woman of steel; the transformation is too sudden.

The client presentation scene is superfluous, as also Meera’s male colleague sneering that women have it easier, to which she responds with an IIM dig. Also, it is quite beyond my ken to think that one would choose to spend time smoking a cigarette in a roadside dhaba loo that typically smells like a cesspit, much less trying to rub off a “randi” (whore) graffiti on the wall; that was just a cinematic touch with no connect to reality. Speaking of which, what was the director trying to say – that women who smoke and wear jeans are “modern” and the only targets? He’s got to read a newspaper once in a while, methinks! Like I said – superfluous.

Once the horror starts, it is compounded by an overdose of sound effects, which make one jump in one’s seat quite unnecessarily. The scenes of violence are too many and too graphic; one wonders what the Censor Board were smoking! The other thing that set my teeth on edge were Meera’s flowing locks; most women bundle up their hair into a bun at the slightest sign of work to be done and this woman has battled her would-be murderers, run along unfamiliar terrain in the boondocks, crashed a jeep, limped her way up hill and down dale, has smudged mascara – but those goshdarned tresses were still swinging free and loose!

Neil has played a competent foil to moody Meera; be nice if he could get those yellowed teeth cleaned up! Anushka Sharma has performed ably. Seems to be no love lost between the lead pair; chemistry quotient was nil. Granted that Deepti Naval has enacted a character far removed from her ‘Chamko’ niceness but the unexpected is the only thing that really stands out; pretty much anyone could have played this role. Darshan Kumar has done a commendable job and totally fleshed out his character; it is very, very possible to leave the theatre filled with fear and loathing against this man.

NH10 is produced by Phantom Films and Anushka Sharma herself. Music is by Sanjeev-Darshan, Anirban Chakraborty, Ayush Shreshtha, Savera Mehta and Samira Koppikar; nothing particularly outstanding in spite of that crowd. It is written by Sudip Sharma; pretty reasonable job all told and any kinks should have been ironed out between him, director Navdeep Singh and editor Jabeen Merchant. Karan Gour’s background score is apt, except in certain places where there’s an overdose of the chill-thrills. I doff my hat to Arvind Kannabiran – the cinematography is astounding, stark and real, particularly the night jeep chase scene.

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