Heading back to Delhi from Gurgaon, I had once scribbled in a piece of paper that this dust bowl only looks beautiful at night from an AC car. That’s precisely what the opening shots of NH10 reminded me. The glamourously shot visuals of traffic lights, dug up roads and starving mongrels pitted against a soothing background score of melancholic blues sketches deftly how the world must look to the rich living and working in the corporate city of Gurgaon.
Director Navdeep Singh, of Manorama Six Feet Under fame, is a smart filmmaker. He doesn’t try to hide the complicated fabric of the educated urban society of India. Instead he lets all contradictions co-exist creating a multi-layered world with multi-layered characters. There is a discomforting silence about the relationship and life Meera and Arjun live. Here, parties must be attended as planned; work must be discussed with appropriate seriousness; husbands convince wives not to smoke no matter how dearly they crave cigarettes and the hero doesn’t as readily offer to drive the woman to work late at night.
The uncomfortable warmth of the Gurgaon high rises and malls disappear as soon as Meera steps on to the road alone at night. As she walks up to her car with her black heels clicking on the pavement, a sense of insecurity creeps over the tone of the film as much as on Anushka Sharma’s face. The director uses subtle tropes to heighten a sense of alienation with one’s physical environment by using the car as a metaphor to represent class.
But as Meera is attacked and her perpetrators break her car window to get to her, the director makes it extremely clear how easy it is to break these flimsy veils set up between the two vividly opposed classes co-existing in the NCR area on the Delhi-Haryana border. Yet, what worries me is how this film spells out the worst fears of the upper class working women of Gurgaon and portrays Haryana to be a nightmare with its pro-urban lenses.
In an interview with Scroll.in, Navdeep Singh says, “The viewer is with Meera’s class and is rooting for her, and that is also what the producers wanted.” Nothing could be further from the truth in NH10. As Meera and Arjun head out of town for a weekend getaway in Haryana, sinister music plays in the background pre-warning the audience of an upcoming crisis; traffic hold up near the toll is explained in the Haryanvi language as the misdeed of some Jatt boys and immediately after entering the heartland of Haryana, villagers are portrayed as cheeky, rude and suspicious.
It is in this acceptance and expectation of encountering crime the minute one gets out of the cities and it is in the suggestion that Haryana’s villages pose a threat to the urban working woman that NH10 bothers me. As expected, I overhear women discussing how this film portrays reality so bluntly and how they are never going to visit Gurgaon again.
If one were to forget about the politics of Anushka Sharma’s production debut then, NH10 is quite a gripping thriller. All that could go wrong goes wrong and Meera must find a way to shed her urban outrage at finding her without the help of law and pick up the iron rod to stop something that’s started by men. And more than Meera, it’s Anushka Sharma who very comfortably slips from the crying and awkward madam to the cold-blooded girl who no longer needs to hide before lighting a cigarette.
Darshan Kumar impresses with his act as an earnest Satbir. He’s emotional, angry and demonic while killing his sister Pinky and is surprisingly coy and docile before his commanding mother (ammaji) played by Deepti Naval.