Lost is a fitting title for Yami Gautam’s latest drama, because that’s how I felt when the movie was over.
Gautam plays Vidhi, an investigative journalist in Kolkata who stumbles onto a story when she meets Namita (Honey Jain) at a police station. Namita’s brother Ishan (Tushar Pandey) — a street performer who produces plays about Dalit rights — has been missing for two weeks. His disappearance came during a rough patch with his girlfriend Ankita (Piaa Bajpai), a news anchor who recently accepted a job and an apartment from politician Ranjan Varman (Rahul Khanna). But Ankita never reported Ishan missing.
Before Vidhi can dig in to the disappearance, a story is leaked that Ishan is involved with a Maoist group accused of terrorism. With Ankita refusing to answer her phone calls, Vidhi figures she might as well seek out the Maoist leader to confirm or deny Ishan’s involvement.
Lost is a very busy film. It speed-runs a plot that is dense with details but light on character motivation and devoid of atmosphere. Calling it a thriller is being extremely generous, since it lacks any tension whatsoever.
The only scenes that are allowed to breathe are between Vidhi and her grandfather Nanu (Pankaj Kapur), with whom she lives. She bounces ideas about the case off of him and he tries to pretend that he’s not worried about her safety, despite noticing two creeps taking photos of their house. The two actors have an easy rapport that helps regulate the story’s pace.
One way to improve Lost would have been to have Kapur play Vidhi’s father, and to eliminate her parents from the story entirely. Their absence could’ve freed up time for plot development elsewhere. Besides, Kapur is only thirty-four years older than Gautam, and the actors cast to play her parents are styled to look just as old as Kapur anyway.
There’s also an under-cooked subplot with Vidhi and her long-distance boyfriend Jeet (Neil Bhoopalam), who is coming to realize that relocating to be with a woman who’s addicted to her job might not be a great idea. The only good thing to come from his involvement in the story is an early scene in a restaurant where they discuss Ishan’s case. A song plays with on-the-nose lyrics like, “The road is dark and dangerous. You might get killed.” Vidhi hears this upbeat ditty and decides it’s time to dance. For a movie that lacks subtext, this feels appropriate.
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.]
Ungli feels like a movie where the creators decided to base a movie on a particular topic, but forgot they needed to actually tell a story in the process. There’s no flow to the plot, and it’s unclear who the main character is. Note to filmmakers: the audience won’t hear your message if they are asleep.
The Ungli Gang — with “ungli” translating as “the middle finger,” as far as I could tell — are an odd assortment of people dedicated to exposing corruption in Mumbai. The gang members are journalist Abhay (Randeep Hooda), doctor Maya (Kangana Ranaut), mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi), and computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam).
Their first caper is to kidnap a trio of crooked pension officers. They convince the men that the phony bombs strapped to their chests will explode unless they keep running around a track, like a boring version of the movie Speed. Police and media are called to the track, where the officer’s corruption is exposed.
The caper earns the gang the kind of widespread public acclaim that never happens in real life, with news reports showing people cheering, “We love Ungli Gang!” Writer-director Rensil D’Silva relies heavily on man-on-the-street news footage — one of my biggest movie pet peeves — to bulk up a thin story.
After a single successful prank, the Mumbai police commissioner freaks out and assigns an officer to hunt down The Ungli Gang. That officer is ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt), a man with a reputation for… something or other. It’s never explained what.
Kale recruits his informally adopted son, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) — the classic Bollywood loafer with a heart of gold — to infiltrate the gang. This doesn’t happen until forty-five minutes or so into the film, at which point Hooda’s character loses his position as the ostensible main character to Nikhil.
In the span of twenty minutes, Nikhil joins the gang, learns their backstory — they want vengeance for their injured CrossFit instructor (seriously) — frolics in a montage about friendship, and betrays them to Kale. I’m not a criminal mastermind, but if someone begged to join my gang, then injured himself just minutes before participating in his first job, I’d be suspicious.
If Nikhil is the character who needs to evolve during the course of the film, why doesn’t he become a major player until the movie’s halfway over? How did this disparate group of vigilantes become experts in espionage? Why is their motivation for vigilantism kept a secret until the second half of the movie? Why isn’t their quest for justice the main goal of the story rather than Nikhil’s slow journey to discover that — shocker! — police officers are fallible?
Shoehorned into the disorganized story are two useless romantic subplots. Bumbling Abhay can’t get the attention of his pretty coworker, Teesta (Neha Dhupia), which makes sense only if she has never actually looked at him. Nikhil woos Maya simply because she’s the only woman in the gang.
Before that, Nikhil smooches another female character who’s never seen again. He tells her that he has a reputation for kissing, a preposterously direct reference to Hashmi’s willingness to lock lips onscreen. Just because Hashmi is willing to do it doesn’t mean that it makes sense in the context of the story. It’s the single laziest element in a film replete with shortcuts and ticked boxes on a checklist.