NEWTON (2017)

Newton is India’s official entry for the Oscars this year and after watching this film, I can’t say that I am too surprised that it was sent. Not only is Newton a really well-made film, it is one hell of a satirical look at all things democratic in a place where democracy hasn’t seen the light of the day in a very long time. Bolstered by stunning performances from Rajkumar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, the film breaks new grounds for dramas as far as the Indian masses are concerned.

Nutan Kumar aka Newton is a person who goes by what is just and correct and is essentially a copybook guy. His nature is made abundantly clear in one hilarious sequence where his family takes him to find a suitable bride and he refuses the marriage because the girl is a minor. Newton soon finds himself volunteering for conducting polls in an area infested with terrorists and where the people are nearly untouched by the modern civilization. Newton arrives in the area and from the get go he gets into logerhorns with Aatma Singh, the commandant of the police battalion posted there to safeguard the area and also to provide protection for the electoral officers.

The journey of the electoral officers start at 4 am in the morning with Newton literally forcing his way with Aatma Singh, who is at first against their trip to the treacherous area, to conduct the poll. As the day progresses, Newton comes up against situations ranging from the indifference of the security personnel, the absence of the voters, the arrival of the media and with it the security forces literally bringing down the voters from their homes on gun point. His day culminates with a sound thrashing from the same security personnel who were entrusted to protect him and that too for doing his job honestly.

This is a film which is a tight slap on the face of the naivety of a large section of people who still believe that democracy in this country exists beyond the last police station or for that matter the last tall-standing mall with all its glitz and glamour. We are introduced to a group of people who have been subjugated for years. They neither know how to vote nor have heard the names of the people who they were asked to vote for. For them, the poll is nothing but a painful chore that will get them into trouble no matter what they do.

In one of the many poignant scenes, a villager is asked by the media whether there will be any change after the polls and he replies calmly that there will be no change. He repeats that statement twice and both the times the camera lingers on his face just a tad bit longer for you to see the frustration. In another scene, Aatma Singh explains to the villagers that the ballot machine is a toy which has different shapes of animals and vegetables and all they need to do is play with it by pressing on one of the many buttons. In yet another scene, Aatma Singh is shown giving an interview were in his own frustration is revealed but in a very subtle manner.

What Newton does best is that it doesn’t take any sides. It lets the story roll and the characters play and in doing that it lets us decide and take sides. Going by how the film ends it becomes impossible to take any sides. While Newton was right in his belief of the democracy, Aatma Singh was doing what was the law of the jungle and in the best interest of his men. The media circus that befalls the tiny village only goes on to show that the most infallible proof of democracy is to parade its existence in front of the masses whether or not it actually exists. That is the only point the film tries to nail in. The rest it leaves to our fine sense of judgment.

Rajkumar Rao has again given a performance that has in many ways belittled his previous achievements. Everytime that I think that I have seen the best that this guy can do and he then he comes up with something like this that blows my mind. Newton’s mannerisms, his facial twitches, his frustrations and even his final hour of glory are brought to life with vitality by Rajkumar Rao. Like he always does, he gets under the skin of the character and makes the character his own.

The same can be said about Pankaj Tripathi. He is a man who can just about suit any role that has a rustic undertone. Aatma Singh’s character is right down his alley and plays to his strengths. I was not at all surprised by the amount of grit and realism that he brings to the role. What is, however, great, is the amount of humor that he extracts from an otherwise dead-serious situation. Everytime he runs into a tangle with Rao’s character, he tickles a few funny bones. That is something which kept the entertainment quotient of the film up. Raghuvir Yadav is apt and is also the good luck charm of the film.

Overall, Amit V Masurkar’s film is laced with satire, black comedy and asks important questions that we more often than not forget to ask ourselves. It presses on an important social issue and presents it in a very cinematic manner with the kind of treatment that will etch the film in your memory for at least the while before the next T20 match and its fanfare makes you forget all about Newton, Aatma Singh and the tattered villagers who are a part of a democracy that doesn’t understand their predicament. Newton is an important film and it should be watched.

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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