India’s 2017 entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign language film is Amit V Masurkar’s Newton.
The film stars Rajkummar Rao as Newton– a conscientious, upright officer who is sent on his first assignment to conduct polls in a Naxalite infested jungle in Chattisgarh. Idealistic and still untainted by cynicism, Newton Kumar believes in doing his job of collecting the votes of the 76 voters in his area going by the rule book, with complete sincerity and honesty.
Unfortunately the world around him is not as perfect as he expects it to be. Venturing into the Dandakaranya (which roughly translates into ‘the jungle of punishments’) is no less than a punishment to the security forces posted in the area, who are armed with inferior quality equipment and keep losing men to the Maoist guerillas. The skeptical security personnel who are assigned the duty of accompanying the electoral team dissuade them from going to the polling booth in all possible ways. But a bull-headed Newton doesn’t concede to their advice and makes his way through the thick forest to reach the deserted village. Backed by an excellent script and some deft dialogues, on that one polling day, director Masurkar manages to capture the plight of the villagers who bear the brunt of both the Maoists and the security forces, the true state of Indian democracy, the hollow claims of the media and the frustration of the security forces.
While Rajkummar Rao is undoubtedly adept at his art as he has constantly demonstrated in film after film, the actor who stole the show with his brilliance was Pankaj Tripathi, who played Aatma Singh, the chief of the security team. His body language, mannerisms and face went from annoyance to sarcasm to sheer exasperation so effortlessly through the length of the film. All supporting actors including the affable Raghubir Yadav and expressive Anjali Patil are consummate playing their respective parts. Sanjai Mishra who does a small cameo in the beginning, sets the tone for the film by expounding gyaan on how Newton changed this world- by making universal laws which apply to those with and without privileges.
Is there hope for Indian democracy? Does exposure to the real India make Newton cynical like the rest of us? Watch the film to find out. And if the abrupt end leaves you wanting for more, I would suggest watching Sulemani Keeda, Masurkar’s debut directorial venture, which is a quirky but realistic take on struggles of script writers in Bollywood.
Leaving you with the haunting voice of Raghubir Yadav (so glad to hear him sing again) and a brilliant message.