NH10: How to beat patriarchy… to death

A still from NH10.  

It tells us something about our society and the state of affairs when your idea of fantasy is to kill some bad guys. When you find yourself cheering gratuitous violence. When you feel it has a healing effect. The blunt force violence of NH10 is cathartic. Even if it’s just temporary, it is a release of angst. And rage against the system.

The system fought here is not just State run. It’s a social system. A darker, dangerous terrain of lawlessness. Because it exists as a thought in millions of minds around the country. A belief that’s deeply entrenched in the subconscious — that a woman’s honour exists only within the cages of patriarchy. If she dares to step out of these walls, she will be shown her place. Because it’s a man’s world. He owns the road and shows the path for women. The tragedy of our times is it’s not just men who believe this. Many years of conditioning and subservience has made even (many) women believe and endorse this mindset.

NH10 gives us the most urban, educated, liberal hero and shows us how even he exhibits these traits. He feels his role is that of a protector. He will not ask for directions. He feels more strongly about responding to a slap on his face than a woman being beaten and kicked. And quite early in NH10, we know we have settled into a film that’s quietly unleashing this mindset, little by little. First, from the hero, then every other male character and finally, we realise that patriarchy is so deeply engrained in the Indian psyche that even when a woman comes to a position of power, she’s still following the age-old man-made rules. How do you make a film where this thought is taken out of the mind, brought to the street and beaten to death? How do you visually show a woman’s physical (and I dare say, also sexual) conquest of that terrain?

Director Navdeep Singh, who made his debut with the thriller Manorama Six Feet Under, almost eight years ago, returns to shove dynamite down your throat and sees how much you can stomach before letting it explode with this riveting, volatile narrative that takes on a familiar genre template and goes beyond the written line (screenplay by Sudip Sharma).

NH10 cannot be interpreted at a simple text and story level (Calling it a rip-off of Eden Lake would be as reductionist as stating that Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is inspired by Spielberg’s Duel) simply because a road trip is not about the car but about the road.

The rugged Indian countryside that epitomises the Indian male psyche is the road travelled here. NH10 takes off when the car literally goes off-road as a trip into the heartland of the Indian subconscious.

Anushka Sharma can pride herself for not just backing the Mirch Masala of our times, but also for her intense power-packed performance. The masterstroke of NH10 is how the makers show us HOW easy it really is for a woman to show the Indian man his place. She just needs to decide. It’s that simple. Which is why films made on this issue, including Mirch Masala, feel a little regressive today. Because the idea that many women need to come together to fight a man also smacks of patriarchy.

During an interview, Navdeep said it was not at all his intention to make a feminist statement. It may have seeped in subconsciously, he said. And if the subconscious feels as strongly about the things going on in our country, it tells us a lot about what we have become.

While the situation on road hasn’t changed one bit (from the days the media named her Nirbhaya to the recent past when BBC called her India’s Daughter), it is so gratifying to see a dark cathartic violent fantasy play out at least on screen.

NH10 provides release but also keeps the rage alive.

It would take multiple blows to the head to kill patriarchy. But as NH10 shows us, one blow at a time.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 9:23:46 PM |

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