NH10: Countryside gangsters are Bollywood's new favourite

  • Arnab Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 14, 2015 17:27 IST

'Crime pays,' or at least that's what we have always believed in. Evil too is attractive since its camouflaged and wrapped in a neat pack. But when it comes to Bollywood, despite some of producers writers and directors trying their creative hand in developing scripts that highlight misdeeds, their box office collection has a different story to tell. This week's film NH 10 has an interesting premise - the story of an urban couple getting caught up in a web of crime highlights several aspects that result in crime such as age-old beliefs, patriarchal society, the obsession for the male-child, women being perceived as sex objects etc. What one must realise is that the answers to all the horrifying acts of savagery and barbarism are not the simplistic eye-for-an-eye syndrome, as the film eventually suggests.

Bollywood attempting their 'evil' intentions to glorify acts of violence is nothing new. While Ramesh Sippy's Sholay remains a cult film that continues to be aped by many. Ram Gopal Varma's string of crime-riddled themes (Satya, Company) were both critically and commercially appreciated. Anurag Kashyap with his own brand of dark films emerged straight from the RGV's school and created an individual style of his own that went to prove his superiority and even challenged the established kings of romances with so much elan, style and commercial success that every Bollywood actor wants to have a film with Kashyap in his kitty.

In the recent past, Tevar, Ab Tak Chhappan 2, Badlapur and Ugly hit the screens as cinegoers waited with baited breath to see the drama unfold on screen, but the distributors are not really kicked about the same director's next releases fearing yet another lukewarm response if they continued to dwell on similar themes.

But when filmmakers grapple with realism- the authentic locales, cuss-filled lingo, believable characters in hard hitting films like NH 10 what is it that fails to ignite the interest in movie buffs? Wouldn't it be a safer bet to try out romance, or romantic comedy after all, the formula and the bubble of romance has not burst and could rekindle a keen interest any time?

The reason for crime thrillers getting appreciated as long as one is watching them could be half baked research on the part of the writers. How else would one explain the 'thanda' collections for Tevar and Ab Tak Chhappan 2? Either it's sensationalism that triggers the motive behind such projects, unless one is Anurag Kashyap who goes the whole hog in building up the perfect pitch for his genre of crime thrillers.

Anushka Sharma has turned producers with NH 10 and from the looks of it, she has had a tough time getting the film released, what with going through the rigamarole of producing and acting in a film that ideally should have released last year but ran into censor trouble for its gory depiction of extreme violence. And now, with the film releasing, she must be worried again about its fate!

Her film is as real as it can get. In one of the crucial scenes, a character playing a police officer says, “Gurgaon mein Jahan par mall khatam hotey hain, wahan par democracy aur constitution bhi khatam hotey hain…” which loosely translates into “Our constitution and democracy have no control over spaces beyond the high profile malls in Gurgaon.” He also asks Meera (Anushka Sharma) what caste she belongs to -- to which she has no answer. These statements act as the pivot around which the film revolves. The swanky high rise buildings in which the inhabitants of the new Gurgaon have begun to invade have little in common with the age-old mindsets of dogma, superstitions and male chauvinism that continue to dominate the state. Hence, by and large, only the orthodoxy lives by the narrow confines of the land.

NH 10 is a disturbing film bolstered by a taut screenplay and fine acting woven around the complex dynamics of anti-social violence. It is a film that taps into our deepest fears and gives us an insight into the world of daring, unlawful locals for whom it is the gun that does all the talking.

Well heeled married couple Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) living in the plush world of Gurgaon where double income couples work hard, and party harder. Returning to her demanding corporate job midway while attending a party one late evening, Meera sets out in her car and encounters two tough guys on a motorbike chasing her. Smashing her car windows to smithereens, they somehow manage to escape leaving her completely traumatized. The incident makes it imperative for Arjun and Meera to apply for a gun licence, and to help her recover from the shock Arjun decides to take a break on her birthday and books a villa to unwind. As they look forward to having fun on their trip breathing in fresh country air they decide to stop by at a refreshment kiosk. Their romantic peace is again shattered by ominous characters like a young girl pleading to save her life from honor killing, a bunch of goons beating the same girl black and blue subsequently and forcibly pushing her into a car and quite a lot of onlookers standing as mute spectators. As Arjun tries to intervene, he gets slapped by one of the goons (Darshan Kumaar). Fearing the worst, Meera drags an affronted Arjun to the car and they drive off. All seems well until Arjun’s bruised ego makes him head towards the goons’ car leading to some stomach knotting tension and tongue slicing horror.

The incident may have been set in Haryana’s milieu but the film could be set in any part of India wherever the stark contrast between the urbane and unsophisticated jostles for equal space and brushes shoulders with each other. Obviously the difference between the two is so wide at times that the crude and the unrefined invariably lose the civility and ‘might’ becomes their ‘right.’ Of course, the gruesome moments that follow every brutal and sadistic attack look more convincing as the assailants speak the local Haryanvi dialect and don’t we know how the sex ratio in the state amply proves how women are subjugated and treated merely as objects across all age groups.

Maintaining a suitably tense pace throughout, the thought-provoking subject orchestrates a chilling tale of drama and lots of thrills. In the first half, while the riveting story grips you completely and you almost have your heart in your mouth in every moment that takes you by shock, the second half is visceral, has some gut-wrenching violence that’s gratuitous, and does little to salvage the film from becoming another one of the ‘Zakhmee Aurat’ or films we saw in the 80s. Anushka’s one-woman army decimates every possible danger that comes her way. But Arjun’s dumb act - that of chasing attackers - without any motive seems like a deliberate attempt to show the bravery that the urban rich may have. Had it been shown that Arjun is sucked into the events and willy nilly falls into a trap, the plot would have been more plausible.

I have a feeling that first time producer Anushka Sharma turned the compelling story around to play the ‘hero’ in this edge-of-the-seat thriller. And so she dominates the proceedings throughout, and I am not complaining: she is utterly believable, albeit in the first half. It is obvious that no male actor wanted to play a secondary ‘hero’ to Anushka and so we have a Neil Bhoopalam essaying the role of her husband. To be fair to him, despite the short length of his role, he acquits himself well. Among the supporting cast, Deepti Naval springs a surprise act though her accent slips. Ravi Jhankal is always the dependable actor but after his impressive role in Mary Kom, Darshan Kumar fails to impress. Writer Sudeep Sharma deserves credit for the power-packed narrative. Director Navdeep Singh’s impressive debut Manorama Six Feet Under didn’t set the cash registers ringing and so he must have decided to let go of his noir instincts to come up with rather compromised second half.

With so much hard work and desire to do a 'hat ke' film, Anushka may not rake in the moolah, and clearly it hasn't impressed the critics either, but will such films - with liberal doses of authenticity- continue to hit screens?

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