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NH10: Out of the cocoon

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A gut wrenching thriller that makes a strong case for how we look at 50 per cent of our population.

An unflinching attempt to take on the deep-seated patriarchy and the caste cauldron simmering behind shining India, director Navdeep Singh gives Anushka Sharma a chance to drive solo on the Bollywood highway. And she drives her way through obstacles with amazing commitment.

Navdeep proved that he knows more than a thing or two about the mofussil India in his debut feature “Manorama Six Feet Under”. Here he uses the slasher format and puts it in a social milieu where the dangers are real and violence is absolutely relatable.

Made with the spirit of an indie, the film looks at the brutality of honour killing and asks whether it is a private matter of a community or should we intervene. With the focus on grit and pace, Navdeep doesn’t cut deep into the socio-economic realities of the hinterland but drops enough hints along the way to make sense of the ugly male psyche that looks at women as either a devi or a slut. In the opening montage he affectingly captures the stark divide between the affluence and indigence in the bustling metropolis.

Arjun (Neil) and Meera (Anushka) represent the liberal and upmarket side of the country, unaware of what is brewing just round the corner of the skyscrapers they are ensconced in Gurgaon. The police officer describes the city as a growing child bound to make its mistakes.

As the couple hits the highway for a break, they come across a gory incident. Like many around them they could also have turned a blind eye to it but Arjun decides to intervene and it spirals into a series of events that brings them face-to-face with a brutal reality.

On the surface Arjun’s attempt to get involved into what Satbir (Darshan Kumar) and his gang call their ‘private matter’ appears impulsive if not downright foolhardy. But then it is Navdeep’s way to remark on the cocoons urban youth live their lives in. It is also a comment on the hollow sense of security that an SUV and a gun provide.

As the chase begins, the couple discovers there is a different moral code that operates in this belt. Singh captures the skewed mindset towards women in a telling sequence where a little boy laughs when his mother is hit by his grandmother. He captures the disdain for the urban women, described as ‘English types’ by a head constable, with the cuss words etched on the doors of the latrines. He keeps the violence realistic so that nobody could ‘enjoy’ it. It remains engaging and disconcerting at the same time. The invectives are central to the narrative and the CBFC’s decision to mute some of them shows its inability to look at a reality in the eye.

Meera is not a case of Phool Bane Angaarey. She is feisty from the word go. When she takes a swim Navdeep focuses on her spirit and not her swim suit. So when she takes over from Arjun there is no jerk. Navdeep alludes to the mythical presence of strong-willed women in our society when at the village there is a cultural programme going on a where a presentation of Savitri-Satyavan legend is on. Similarly, Meera’s yellow jacket is perhaps Navdeep’s tribute to Kill Bill.

Gradually, the situation forces her to do everything that is expected of a male hero in a revenge drama. It might be unpalatable for a section of the audience and the way Meera’s smokes in the climax it can spur a debate on how far a woman should go to change perceptions but in the context of the film it fits well.

As the angry young woman Anushka carries the film on her lithe shoulders. She shouts, she cries and she runs but nowhere does she cross into melodramatic territory. Neil makes the most of a half-baked character and Darshans lend solid support as the face of the brute. Ravi Jhankal chips in with rustic idiosyncrasies and Deepti Naval comes as a surprise package.

Sudeep Sharma has come up with an edgy screenplay but at times he takes the audience as unawares of the caste dynamics as the lead players. At times Navdeep makes it a little too apparent that Anushka is also the co-producer of the film. The rousing background track that plays when she hits the road after Arjun gets decapitated establishes her invincibility even before she takes the challenge head on. It may be dictated by the need to insert intermission but this approach curbs the surprise element of the storytelling. Still a road to hell you can’t resist.

Genre: Thriller

Director: Navdeep Singh

Cast: Anushka Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumar, Deepti Naval, Ravi Jhankal

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 8:20:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/nh10/article6991010.ece

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