Cinema

Into the lawless North

Navdeep Singh  

After a brief struggle with the Censors, NH10 released last week as the makers reached a compromise and agreed for a few audio cuts (mostly profanity, even if they wanted an adult rating). Some of the members were so moved by the film that even they were repulsed by the idea of the new guidelines curbing swear words. Navdeep Singh waited for over seven years to get his second film out after his critically acclaimed debut thriller Manorama Six Feet Under (2007). It has been a long journey from the first to the second film. Excerpts from the interview:

NH 10 has feminist undertones.

In my mind, it was an ordinary, standard genre film. It wasn’t supposed to be any feminist statement. I don’t know, maybe some of those things did seep in subconsciously. But not intentionally. It’s a road-trip-gone-wrong survival story.

How did you end up with NH 10 as your second film because we last heard you were working on a zombie film?

We shot for the zombie film for 20 days and then it got stalled because of one the producers (Gives me details off the record — but too much time has passed and the actors have aged among other logistical reasons). So I started from scratch, it was super frustrating because the zombie film was a lovely fun idea that got wasted. So I told Sudip (Sharma) who did dialogues on the zombie film: let’s do a small dark film. But that one was too dark. And then, I worked on another one called Caneda which was a bigger action rise-and-fall-of-a-gangster story but that turned out to be too big… although everyone loved the script, they were like: Arrey, yeh toh bahut mehengi hogi (This would be too expensive). So this was the third script. NH10 was meant to be a quickie. Manorama was over seven years ago. Saat saal ka vanvaas (It’s been seven years of exile).

What did you do for money for seven years?

I wrote scripts. Money… luckily, I did advertising before that. So I had a house, I had money in the bank. In fact, I had taken a couple of years off from advertising after Manorama, thinking I would write and get my second film done… And two years became seven. So I need to make money now, I’m quite broke.

How did you start from scratch?

Sudip and I figured… let’s make a quickie thriller, something that doesn’t require sets and something that could be done inexpensively and we figured we would keep it female-centric because female stars would be easier to access than male stars. We were quite naïve then about how the industry works.

But did this road trip require a woman to be the protagonist?

This needed a woman. The story wouldn’t have worked with a guy in the part because a woman is much more vulnerable, especially out there in the countryside.

And how realistic do you think the film is?

It’s realistic as far as Hindi films go. However, I don’t think it is as realistic as real life. You read about some of these things and it’s just absolutely horrific. I don’t think I would be able to put that up on screen, neither do I think the audience would stomach something like that.

So what does NH10 signify?

The road runs from Delhi to Haryana through Rajasthan all the way to the Pakistan border. It represents a mindset. A North Indian patriarchal mindset. It’s interesting how that part of the country has changed over the last few years.

There’s a sudden influx of money in places like Gurgaon… it’s an extension of the national capital. Suddenly, a lot of people have money and they don’t know what to do with it. It’s not just a feudal mindset; it’s weirdly male chauvinistic, violent, … it’s a lawless fighting-back-at-the-establishment belt. We knew the film would be set in that area, so we named it after the highway.

How did Anushka Sharma getting on board change the film?

It became bigger. She was No. 1 on my list. Had sent it to her. The first time I don’t think she had even read it. Then we were going to go to Freida Pinto. But eventually, Anushka read the script and was gung ho about it. She came on board as a producer. Otherwise, there were zero changes because of the actor.

This film too is high on atmospherics like your previous film.

I’m not sure if I have a style. We shot NH10 in real locations. But atmospherics is a combination of things — it depends on the location, the DOP, the pacing, the general ambience. It’s a different style from Manorama. It’s faster paced, but then every rollercoaster needs a down moment before you start again, but the environment is a character here as well.

What is your take on the swearword ban imposed by the CBFC?

The social milieu this film is set in uses the words the Censors objected to. And that list of swear-words issued as guidelines by the CBFC is pretty exhaustive that it even includes words that are not specified. For instance, if G**** is not there (We tell him it’s there). Ok, if L***** is not there in the list, it’s not like they will let you use L*****. You can’t use saala, saali, kutta and kutti… not even for an adult film!

This is not a film kids should be watching. I would not let my kid watch it.

Don’t you lose the opportunity to show it on TV when it is an adult film?

Now you sound like a producer. (Laughs) Of course, my producer made me aware of the restrictions. We did tone it down. It’s not as violent as I would have liked it to be. It’s not as violent as reality is.

At which part of the Phantom Films timeline was this film greenlit? Did Anurag Kashyap have any inputs?

This was greenlit by Phantom Films, post Lootera, post Queen. Kashyap is very hands off as a producer and he treats other directors the way he likes to be treated as a director. So there was zero interference from Anurag. The others had some suggestions.



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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 9:28:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/into-the-lawless-north/article7018697.ece

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