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Lessons from Anushka Sharma's NH10: A handy guide to how not to behave in Haryana



NH10 is a comment on many things. That, give a 'glamorous' actress a script-backed role, and she'll do a better and more realistic job than most of her male counterparts in Bollywood. That every woman needs to marry wisely and we're usually better off without carrying dead weight. That nothing is as invigorating as a spot of bloody revenge. That Haryana is a law unto itself. And that even the best of films must have massive loopholes of logic in their scripts.
To recap without giving away too much, Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhooplan) are a young, married, Gurgaon-residing couple who set off on a romantic weekend on Meera's birthday. They are travelling down NH10 when they come across what seems to be the setup for an "honour” killing. Arjun steps in to reason with one of the six men, the one walloping a young woman. He gets smacked in return. What follows for the next 15 minutes in NH10 beats logic: Arjun decides to teach the thugs a lesson. And therein lies the beginning of the end.
No matter where you live, you know that you have to pick your battles very wisely. In Gurgaon and even Delhi, this is all the more true. As a long-time Gurgaon resident, let me just say that if my husband or boyfriend behaved the way Arjun does in NH10, I would actually hand him over to the goons chasing us. Not just because I'm safer that way, but because maybe getting his ears boxed would knock some sense into him.
To expect us to believe that someone from cosmopolitan Gurgaon would be utterly unaware of the potential consequences of taking on, single-handedly, six men who have essentially abducted two people from a dhaba in the heartlands of Haryana, requires as much suspension of disbelief as the idea that Priyanka Chopra looks like Mary Kom.
Arjun and Meera are people who, we're told, work in responsible positions, are well-educated, live in affluent areas, and seem to be well-informed. One would assume they read newspapers and watch the news. How can they not know that even in the heart of Gurgaon, 10 minutes from the plush colonies in which they live, exists another world in which daughters and wives are considered chattel, where honour killings occur and the khap reigns supreme? Of course there are few films in Bollywood that are credible and realistic, but this absurd of behaviour is the central premise upon which the rest of the film develops.
Arjun's decision jars because most of NH10 is very well-observed. It may sound stereotypical, but ask anyone who's lived in Haryana: people need little reason to be aggressive and a different set of rules exist for locals. As outsiders, we may not appreciate or endorse these rules, but we defer to them because we don't want to become statistics. Even in the most genteel of Gurgaon colonies, for instance, men will scream at their wives in public, abuse female neighbours, openly lech at them, form vigilante groups and threaten to hang rapists or shoot stray dogs. It's like the end of days, Haryana-style.
The explanation that NH10 provides for Arjun's behaviour is that he's stung by a snide comment Meera makes about him protecting her. This isn't the kind of daftness we expect from the sensible, calm sort that Arjun is shown to be, but I do know some high-testosterone, low-IQ men who could conceivably behave the way Arjun did. Unexpectedly and subtly, NH10 becomes a lesson in marrying well. If Meera character wasn't married to Arjun and Arjun didn't have an inner caveman, she wouldn't be in the spot she finds herself and we wouldn't have a film to watch. Learn from NH10. Marry sensible men who will not put your life at risk, simply because you made a catty remark. (Or just don't marry.)
Another glaring loophole in NH10's realism is the absence of country pistols in the film. Pigs will fly before that happens. Even in Delhi, people are walking around with katas, tamanchas and other horrible sounding homemade arms. But not in NH10.
Evidently, NH10 is not an advertisement for Haryana, but aside from these few details, little in the film smacks of artifice. The motivations of the constable who won't help Meera, why the local top cop says he will help her, the sight of the brother weeping while talking about killing his sister, the idea that "honour” killers can be shaken by sadness at a family member's death moments after cold bloodedly planning another's murder – everything feels real. The only person who helps Meera, incidentally, is from Bihar. Take that Raj Thackeray.

The reason to watch NH10 are two women: Anushka Sharma and Deepti Naval. The film etches Meera's arc from sensible peacenik to avenging angel beautifully, and it's an arc to which you can fully relate. To make a comparison between the sublime and the ridiculous, this isZakhmi Aurat Redux. If you've been pushed to a corner and are faced with little chance of survival, you may as well go out with a bang, wreaking as much havoc as possible.
What is wonderful to watch is the unapologetic exacting of revenge by Meera. There's no over-acting or any trace of the Varun Dhawan school of intense acting seen in Badlapur, which essentially involves making a face that suggests you desperately need Isabgol. The dialogues are crisp and colloquial, replicating the way we speak or joke with our friends and family, as well as the cautious and extreme politeness with which we speak to male strangers in the badlands of Haryana.
Sharma's acting is spot on. It's not surprising that Sharma has produced this film and acted in it. I can only imagine how liberating it must have been for her to actually get to act in a film, and not have to only worry about looking pretty and coy in equal parts. Her cosmetic tweaks, though, are very distracting and you can't help but wonder about the vanity that can make even intelligent women do things to their faces and bodies. But that is an article for another day (and Sharma's personal choice).
Deepti Naval makes a brief appearance in NH10, and she's the other highlight of the film. With the simple acts of packing a suitcase and pulling stickers off a cupboard, she conveys so much about her character, which is beautifully developed . Her son's deference to her and his irreverence for all other women is again something you'll see in enough homes across India – across classes and communities.
There's a lot this film gets right and it's one of the few films which reaches its zenith post-interval. I'd watch it if I were you. Do it because this is good cinema. And do it quickly.
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