Movie Review: NH10 (2015)

NH10_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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NH10 is a relentless race for survival that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Anushka Sharma is spellbinding as a woman who fights for her life after her husband makes a costly mistake.

As grim and intense as the movie becomes, its opening scene is charming. The audience is introduced to a married couple, Meera (Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam), as they converse while driving to a party in Delhi. The camera shoots the city at night from the car’s point of view, and we only hear the couple. Through their playful banter, we come to care about them before we even see what an attractive pair they make.

Their conversation reveals benign problems typical of many marriages. She doesn’t want to go to the party, but he does. He habitually forgets his phone in the car. Her job pulls her to the office at all hours.

Yet these modest issues set up the story. Arjun stays late at the party, and Meera drives to her office alone. On the way, she escapes an attempted carjacking. The couple’s subsequent meeting with the police is disheartening. The male officer chides Meera for failing to note the other vehicle’s license number before ceasing to address her entirely. He talks only to Arjun — as if he were her father, not her husband. As in many other Hindi films, the police in NH10 are unwilling to help the people they are supposed to serve and protect.

The attack awakens Meera to the many ways — subtle and overt — that her gender marks her as an “other” in society. It makes her a potential target for criminals. She’s regarded as a child in the eyes of the cop. A male coworker accuses her of receiving preferential treatment. Even when she and Arjun leave town for a vacation, she sees the word “whore” written on the door of a bathroom stall in a roadside restaurant.

As she washes away the offensive word, she’s drawn into the struggle that defines the rest of her journey. A young woman, Pinky, begs Meera for help. Pinky’s brother, Satbir (Darshan Kumaar), and his goons drag the woman and her husband into a car. Arjun tries to intervene, even as Meera begs him not to. Satbir punches Arjun before driving off with Pinky and her groom.

Arjun chases after Satbir’s vehicle, realizing too late that Satbir and his goons are not yokels who will be scared of Arjun’s pistol. Arjun’s act of bravado — born of his feeling of failure for not protecting Meera from the carjackers — dooms them both.

NH10 makes its points about gender in contemporary India with subtlety. The consequences of Arjun’s reaction shine the spotlight on comments made by some politicians in response to highly publicized rape cases (and reinforced in a number of popular movies): women will be safe as long as they have a man around to protect them.

It’s not enough that Arjun is there or that he has a gun. He and Meera are outnumbered by Satbir and his crew, who are far more experienced in violent behavior than the married couple. More importantly, the situation would have been exactly the same had Arjun been with Meera on the night she was attacked: outnumbered by violent people. What could any man do to protect his loved one in the face of such odds?

The futility of Arjun’s situation is emphasized by Bhoopalam’s depiction of him as a truly ordinary guy. Nice, but neither a sap nor morally perfect. Fit, but not a superman. He’s just a guy.

Meera begins as a similarly ordinary woman, but she endures more emotional extremes. Sharma guides her through terror, exhaustion, frustration, despair, and rage. It’s a career-defining performance that reaches its high point in the movie’s chilling climax.

Meera and Arjun spend much of the film running through the desert at night to avoid their adversaries, and the lighting throughout is terrific. It’s always easy to see the couple onscreen while being able to appreciate their own limited field of vision. The sound design is likewise great for enhancing the sense of danger without becoming cartoonish. Rather than a cheesy musical flourish, a car engine that’s a little too loud is more than enough to make you jump from your seat.

If anything, NH10 is a little too good at creating tension. Meera never gets a break, so neither does the audience. Even with a runtime of under two hours, it’s exhausting.

Nevertheless, NH10 is a movie worth watching for those who aren’t squeamish. Sharma shows that she’s more than up to the task of anchoring a film that succeeds or fails on her merits. Her performance alone makes NH10 a must-see movie.

[Update: Reflecting further on the NH10, I want to commend the filmmakers for avoiding a trope too common in Hindi films: none of the female characters are threatened with rape. The threat of rape is often used against women in movies, without regard to its particular gender significance. Its omission is obviously a deliberate choice, and a positive one at that.]

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33 thoughts on “Movie Review: NH10 (2015)

  1. moviemavengal

    I can’t wait to see this! Great review, Kathy. I think this film will spur a lot of conversation.

    Reply
  2. Shrey Tiwari

    but Kathy, as many people speculate and even I thought about it… the movie resembles Eden Lake, since i haven’t seen the movie so i can’t tell but the trailer had it clearly. How different is the movie from the English one?
    nice review as always! keep up the work of appreciating Bollywood movies not being an Indian 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Shrey! I’d never heard of Eden Lake until today, so I can’t say how it compares to NH10. The Wikipedia plot summary of Eden Lake does sound similar, but I think the creators of NH10 included a lot of distinctly Indian elements in their story.

      Reply
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  4. JustMeMike

    Sign me up.

    I checked and I don’t think it is playing in Oslo, Norway tomorrow, But even if it were the subtitles would be in Norwegian. I’d be more likely to understand the Hindi than the Norwegian. Great review Kathy

    Reply
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  6. Tanay

    Screenplay is kiddish.
    1.) Who the hell will go after goons with his wife, especially when you know they are 5-6 in numbers.
    2.) Hero leaves his wife alone in car and goes to fight with goons.
    3.) Anushka goes to police station , run here and there, but just can’t get a phone from someone to call his family/friends in Delhi.
    4.) Anushka, who is clearly unaware of the village streets but chases the hard seasoned goons in a SUV where goons are aware of every corner of streets but they run for saving their life. Even they know that her only strength is SUV, she is not physically strong, then why did not they try to trap the vehicle in a narrow street!? or Even just stand on the door of a house. It has some curb to stop vehicle. Even standing in a corner can save you from SUV and force that person to come out from the vehicle.
    5.) There is musical program in village but after so much chasing and drama there is not a single person in village.
    Too many loop holes…. And too much feminism.
    Background score is good… Badlapur is better than this overrated movie

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      “And too much feminism.” You undercut all of your arguments with this one sentence, Tanay. I urge you to retire it until the events and attitudes depicted in the movie — honor killings, gender-based violence, workplace harassment, etc. — are no longer problems that afflict billions of women around the world every day.

      Reply
  7. Vibhor Silewar

    hi Kathy, I’m a big follower of your reviews. as always this review was very good. are you going to watch and review ‘Dum laga ke haisha’. just saw it today and I liked it too.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks, Vibhor! Dum Laga Ke Haisha didn’t release in the United States, so I have to wait until it’s available on DVD or streaming to review it. Looking forward to it!

      Reply
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