In the recently-released film NH10, a scene shows actors Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam halt at a highway dhaba that eventually sucks them into the world of honour killings, The art direction team had painstakingly created the set. However, they had not factored in a significant task: crowd control. On the day of the shoot, nearly 2,000 onlookers thronged the sets. The shoot had to be cancelled.
According to director Navdeep Singh, the crowd that had gathered out of curiosity turned hostile when they were asked to stay away from the sets. “On a number of occasions, we had to cancel shoots due to an unruly crowd, which did not hesitate to pelt stones at us. Their curiosity was heightened because of Anushka’s presence. The crowd didn’t even listen to the police,” says Singh.
Incidents such as this made director Navdeep Singh hunt for alternate locations. “The story of NH10 is set in Haryana and we wanted to shoot the entire film there. We had two schedules for it since Anushka was shooting Bombay Velvet in between,” says Singh. However, because of this unforeseen aggression during the first schedule, they packed up and moved to Rajasthan to complete the filming. The location shift demanded changes in the script even though they found matching topography in the outskirts of Jodhpur. Since most of the scenes are in the night, it was easy to cover up the change in location.
To lend authenticity to the film’s characters, Singh thought of introducing local actors. After auditions, the casting director Jogi and his team selected youth from Hisar and Rohtak. “We were working on a tight budget and did not have the scope of hiring a language coach. So local actors made my task easier — especially when it came to replicating the diction and the attitude of people from the region,” says Singh.
However, the biggest challenge in casting was to find an A-lister to play Meera Puri, the protagonist. “Since it is difficult to find a producer for women-centric films, we wanted to cast a leading actress. Even though Anushka loved the script, she initially rejected it since she was caught up with Bombay Velvet. Meanwhile, Frieda Pinto came on board. After six months of preparations, it failed to take off due to various reasons,” says Singh. Later, during the shoot of Bombay Velvet, Anushka learnt from its director Anurag Kashyap that NH10 had been put on hold. She decided not only to act in it but also produce it. Suddenly, the movie was fast-tracked.
While Sharma has earned her acting chops with this film, veteran Dipti Naval, as the ruthless sarpanch, has shocked some of her fans. “She was reluctant and took some time to be convinced about the role. Even during the shoot, she said: ‘Do you really want me hit a woman?’ Casting against her archetype worked,” says Singh.
Positive response to the film has left Singh pleasantly surprised. “Indians are not very fond of dark subjects. So not going the Korean and Japanese slasher movie way and keeping the violence bearable while making the audience cringe helped,” he says.
A holiday is in the offing once his son’s board examinations are over. After that, he wants to revisit some of the scripts he worked on after Manorama Six Feet Under, as well as resume making commercials. “When a couple of my film projects did not take off, I decided to refrain from making ads till my second film releases. Small-budget films are creatively satisfying but they won’t pay my son’s college fees.”