NH10 review: Anushka takes on crazy killers in Bollywood's first slasher road trip film
Yet for all of NH10’s accomplishments, there are a few questionable lapses in logic, like when the couple uses a map chart instead of Google Maps on their expensive iPhones, and still lose their way.
A couple on a road trip, towards a romantic destination. They go off track and get lost. Something terrible happens. A crazed killer (or a bunch of them) on the prowl, the couple make a run for it, all leading up to a pyrrhic ending. It’s been done before thousands of times in cinema; but unless you count Ram Gopal Varma’s Road, it’s never been done before in Bollywood. Director Navdeep Singh serves up the first taste of the slasher road trip genre in NH10, and the results are pretty good.
For NH10, Singh, who directed the superb Manorama Six Feet Under (which borrowed a few bits from Chinatown), takes generous helpings of the British thriller Eden Lake. The basic plotline remains the same – urban husband and wife heading towards a countryside birthday destination are plunged into a cat and mouse game with a bunch of cutthroat rural locals. A lot of blood spills from both sides. Instead of Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, we have Neil Bhoopalam and Anushka Sharma on the run, and the villains have been switched from weird rednecks to regressive North Indians villagers.
The borrowing is evident but forgivable, because it works. The slasher elements of this genre film are executed fairly well, and there’s a ton of social commentary thrown in for good measure, which is also rendered pretty well.
The first element is going to satisfy a lot of horror film fans. The bleak tone and grungy atmosphere of NH10, aided by Karan Gour’s electronic score, is smashing. From the cold and dark badlands of Haryana to its impossibly evil dwellers, a lot of the setting is nightmarish. The pacing is spot on as well. The film pans out over the course of one night and it almost feels like it’s shot in real time. There’s constant tension and the sense of dread, which only compliments the brutality on display.
The second element was a tricky thing to pull off because there are a million ways a film that echo the 2012 Delhi gangrape and make a case for women’s empowerment gone wrong. We’ve seen the over the top absurdities of Mary Kom, the ridiculous finale of Mardaani and the hammy loud entirety of Gulaab Gang, all of which defeated the purpose of championing heroines.
NH10 is not a blaring, loud film that caricatures women empowerment. This is the film that lets its silences stun you. It finally breaks the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype by showing a woman standing up against rapey hoodlums with an iron rod. It’s unsettling, and it’s refreshing as hell.
There’s a scene where Sharma’s character Meera places her weapon aside, casually lights a cigarette and finishes it slowly, before finishing off a goon. It’s bada** and crowd pleasing in a way that films and action should be. If only there were more scenes like this one, where we stay with the characters and watch their dynamics, rather than the rapid-fire violent momentum of the film.
Speaking of which, the violence is actually more subtle than you expect it to be, partly because it is executed maturely and partly because we get gorier, bloodier, more eye crushingly vicious U-rated films on a regular basis.
Yet for all of NH10’s accomplishments, there are a few questionable lapses in logic, like when the couple uses a map chart instead of Google Maps on their expensive iPhones, and still lose their way. At times, the film overdoes it and keeps telling you ‘North India is full of horrible people’, because everyone in the film is seemingly out to kill the couple. Yes, some of the patriarchal rubbish in this country needs to be addressed, but does every man in the film need to be antagonistic to convey the point? Some scenes set in the dark look fake because of the artificial lighting. The songs, barring the end credits, are jarringly out of sync with the tone of the film – they were obviously shoehorned in for commercial purposes.
But those are all trifles in the grander scheme of this gripping and entertaining thriller, with a terrific performance from Sharma. After years of giving in to the easy commercial roles, it’s good to see her venture out of her comfort zone and deliver so well. Kudos.
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