Anushka Sharma lights up a cigarette at a critical juncture before going for the kill. That one moment does a lot for a woman breaking the shackles of a warped male dominated mindset in the heartland of India. Navdeep Singh's NH10 is a highly relevant film in these times of a necessary need for women empowerment. It strikes like a bullet and the stinging odor of revenge stays with you for long, even after the film gets over. At the same time, the excessive detailing of the violence doesn't make it an easy watch.
Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam) are a happy couple, safely ensconced in their cushy corporate jobs. Meera gets a taste of Delhi lechery when there's an attempt to molest her. Arjun, in an attempt to get her over the trauma, plans a getaway for her birthday. As they hit the dusty 'NH10', they become embroiled in a case of honor killing in front of their own eyes. Their ugly run-in with the killers headed by Satbir (Darshan Kumaar) takes a nasty turn, the conspiring policemen are of no help, Arjun gets seriously injured and Meera has to slug it out on her own through extremely tough circumstances.
Sudip Sharma's writing is soaked in the blood-n-dirt of Haryanvi villages and the big city milieu. The screenplay is taut and the pace zips along. Jabeen Merchant's editing is sharp and the edit patterns surprises you with its sudden innovativeness. There are interesting nuances that establishes the path-breaking attempts in a very subtle manner. Arjun gifts a cigarette packet to Meera to smoke only on her birthday. Meera rubs off a derogatory word written on a toilet door in a Dhaba. Ammaji (Deepti Naval) disdainfully clearing the wardrobe of her murdered daughter Pinky.
Anushka Sharma packs in an incredibly strong performance laced with intense vulnerability. Her character graph shows a natural progression stemming from uncertainty, fear, inherent intelligence and how she gets forced into pumping steel-in-her-veins. The physical conditioning through the rough terrain must have been very difficult. When she hysterically screams 'F**k You' to the killers, you can feel her cumulative agony. Neil Bhopaalam, as the supportive husband with an immature streak delivers a solid performance. Darshan Kumaar is a totally violent contrast to the calm-n-collected husband of MARY KOM. He's a pleasant revelation. Deepti Naval shines in a cameo. Her dramatic shift from empathy to antipathy is electrifying.
Music has been used in a matter-of-fact manner and at no point;it takes anything away from the narrative or the pace of the film. ShilpaRao has outstandingly sung 'Le ChalMujhe' in an unplugged format. It literally digs its claws in your heart with the sheer authenticity of angst. The flagship number 'Chil Gaye Naina' isn't a part of the film, and, thankfully, the makers didn't use it in the end credits either. Arvind Kannabiran's cinematography is brilliant as he expertly captures the jilted images in spite of difficult lighting conditions.
Director Navdeep Singh is at the top of his game. After many years in the wilderness post the critically acclaimed MANORAMA SIX FEET UNDER and a failed production plan with Abhay Deol, Singh retains his sanity and doesn't compromise on his or writer Sudip Sharma's vision. But, in spite of a water tight plot, one can question Arjun's motivation to go after rogue killers even though he's with a lady in tow. Was he that naive? Also, the climax seems somewhat rushed and way too sudden.
On the whole, NH10 is a wonderfully made film with an outstanding performance by Anushka Sharma. It will be well appreciatedby an intelligent audience that's gunning for women safety and empowerment. The sound cinematic credentials and gripping narrative is the high point of the film. But, as mentioned earlier, the glorification of violence isn't easy to stomach. You need to be really motivated to absorb it. This National Highway has its shares of potholes, but, it is a must visit. Do go the NH10 way!