Director: Amit V. Masurkar
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Raghubir Yadav, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil, Sanjai Mishra
Newton is a brilliant and devastating film. With minimal drama and flash, director Amit V. Masurkar creates a many-splendored thing – the film is, at once, a dark, biting comedy, the heart-breaking portrait of a man who just wants to do an honest day’s work and a scathing critique of the state of Indian democracy.
Amit and writer Mayank Tewari create a layered narrative which doesn’t give us the comfort of obvious villains or easy solutions. They take us into the jungle and then deftly unveil the heart of darkness – corruption, apathy, greed, neglect, poverty, ignorance and the enduring stoicism of the local tribals. For the adivasis, who live in horrific poverty and somehow survive both the Indian armed forces and the insurgents, there is only one question – kitna paisa milega.
Newton is about an election official trying to do his duty in the jungles of Chhattisgarh. Nutan Kumar, who rechristened himself Newton because he got tired of people making fun of his name, wants only one thing – to make a difference. This is a man who plays by the rule book and is so upright that his instructor is forced to point out Newton’s ‘imandari pe ghamand.’
Newton arrives in the Maoist-influenced forest region of Dandakaranya. There are only 76 eligible voters in this conflict-zone. Many have never seen an electronic voting machine or even heard of the candidates they must choose from. The area’s CRPF officer Atma Singh, played to perfection by Pankaj Tripathi, just wants to be done with the charade. He knows the truth – that this is an empty exercise, which will change little. But Newton persists – he will do whatever it takes to enable a free and fair election.
This is only Amit’s second film after the micro-budget indie Sulemani Keeda and his leap as a director is staggering. There is a maturity and sophistication here. There are moments in the first half when the pacing lags but this passes soon. And the wonderful cast – led by Rajkummar Rao – doesn’t falter. Rao, Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav and Anjali Patil as the local booth officer, imbue the story with heft and a sort of quiet wisdom. Each one embodies a different and equally valid, point of view.
Hansal Mehta recently told me that an actor of the caliber of Rajkummar Rao enables directors like him to think of ambitious narratives. In Newton, Rao is stubborn and stupid but also poignant and powerful. His anguish is searing. As is this film.