27 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Newton: The India We Never See


Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), a newly-appointed government employee, volunteers to be the presiding election officer (the appointed officer refuses. fearing death) at a Naxal-rampant region in Chhattisgarh.

Newton and his team (Raghubir Yadav and co.) are escorted by the army on arrival. To avoid a bullet-proof jacket laden 8 km walk through a forest to the designated pooling booth, army camp leader Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) suggests fraudulent voting.Newton, upright and dedicated, uses his official authority and insists that they perform their duties instead.

Though the constituency has only 70-odd tribal voters with none likely to turn up, Newton echoes his senior's (Sanjay Mishra) advice. A silent tussle ensues between Singh and Newton, even as a voting booth is installed and an election officer swats away mosquitoes, plays astrologer and falls asleep.

An Inconvenient Truth 
Set up as a black comedy and satire, Newton is about things we Indians know and traditionally, comfortably consent to. India is a democracy only by name. Somewhere in a jungle, between Naxals and politicians, people want to be left alone in peace. But the powerful using the whip on the poor is a tale as old as kingdoms and oppression. We have accepted this fact quietly, without protest for a long time now. Some people like Newton haven't.


The Indian Narrative
The morning show audience laughing off Newton's helplessness is part of the Indian narrative. Giggles come easily to us when a government employee is adamant and eager in his sincerity. Newton represents this stubborn, sole, endangered ideal. Honesty and government jobs don't go together. That simply doesn't happen in India.

Many also laughed at scenes of helpless villagers obeying army orders. Clearly, many were watching Newton with their Bollywood comedy glasses on. Ready to laugh at anything. The rural-urban, well-to-do vs poor disconnect in that cinema hall at some instances was disturbingly evident. 

Pressing Questions
Why do we vote? Why does the electoral process seem lame? Why are we as we are? Are we slaves to the systems of our own creation? Is development necessary? Why can't people live as they like? What is freedom then?

Newton raises questions that few Indian films have dared to ask. It walks a social drama/comedy tightrope, entertaining and making a great impact. The film vindicates by conveying - Nothing knocks you out like the truth.

Oscar Vibes
Don't expect a 'rocking', 'overwhelming', 'ultra-brilliant' movie, just because we are sending Newton to the Oscars. Director Amit Masurkar conveys his message with the right cinematic balance, extracts top-grade performances and doesn't disappoint.

Watch what Rajkummar Rao's nervously blinking eyes convey, as does Raghubir Yadav's free-flowing dialogue delivery. The gifted and uncannily effective Rao is having a well-deserved dream run this year. Pankaj Tripathi is again impressive, this time as the practical, crooked army man. He is certainly an actor for all seasons. Anjali Patil is good too. The background score, soundtrack, and cinematography could have been better.

Excellent, Understated Screenplay
Go with an open mind and heart for Newton. It admirably deals with themes that involve each one of us. Newton will make me think about governance, living, patriotism, consequence, and purpose, for a long time to come. Along with Lipstick Under My Burkha, my co-contender for the Boom Box film of the year.

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