NH10’s much-lauded director Navdeep Singh has been celebrating the night before our conversation with his cast and crew.
“I never expected this kind of a response to the film,” he confesses. “It was drilled into me that this is a dark gritty real film and audiences don’t really want to watch a film that’s all of this. So I was kind of mentally prepared for a tepid response. Wonders, as they say, never cease.”
While the film has been uniformly applauded for its hard-nosed look at the reality that runs through the rapid urbanization of rural India, some paratroopers claim, NH10 is inspired by a 2008 American horror film Eden Lake directed by James Watkins.
Says Navdeep, “It’s not a particular film. It’s the genre. The girl-hounded-in-the-wilderness genre of cinema. Why just Eden Lake? There may be similarities to many other films of that genre. I can think of at least 20 films like mine. Some critics have mentioned a Jodie Foster film The Brave One. I call this the Wikipedia school of critical stalking. You can’t pin down my film to films that belong to the same genre. We had to abide by the demands of the genre. But at the same time we opened it up, brought in issues that took the genre beyond its ‘slasher’ intentions.”
The director explains how the genre was opened up. “We took the genre into the Haryanvi heartland. I admit we demonized the locals to a large extent. But the genre has to have bad guys. We wanted to highlight gender equality while staying true to the genre.”
Navdeep doesn’t feel cinema has the power to change society. “But if as a filmmaker you can highlight some of the social issues without getting preachy you can at least open up a debate.”
Navdeep says the film couldn’t have been made and marketed so well if it wasn’t for Anushka Sharma. “She agreed to not just star but also co-produce the film. That made a lot of difference. The film got a lot of pre-release visibility because of Anushka. My earlier and so far only other film Manorama 6 Feet Under was not marketed at all.”
The director feels the censor board has been largely fair to him. “But some of the abusive language that they removed did diminish the film’s impact. For instance, there is a psychologically challenged character who calls Anushka a ‘kutti’(bitch). That was changed to ‘Jhoothi’. There is a world of difference between what the original and the replacement word conveyed.”
Not all of Navdeep’s films are going to be dark and brooding. “My next film is going to be a comedy called Kaneda, the way some Punjabis pronounce ‘Canada’. I don’t want to be stuck being recognized for making any one kind of cinema.”