Step out of the blissful ignorance served by Hindi cinema on weekends and indulge in this acerbic comedy meeting fine performance, if you haven’t already.
Newton is that essential social commentary that the world’s largest democracy needs. Yes, it is a movie of a newly-recruited government officer who is sincere to a fault and just wants to conduct a free and fair election. But more than that, Newton is a movie about how there is idealism on one hand, a practical way of conducting things on the other extreme and somewhere in between lies forgotten that which matters — the actual subject, the actual characters, the nameless faces.
Rajkumar Rao in the avatar of Newton has a “simple” task — to go into the interiors of a Naxal-occupied territory and conduct elections. On his voter list are 76 people. A couple of hours of no voter turnout sees him getting anxious. But when the voters do come (and how), Newton is in utter disbelief because these people have no sense of voting, much less who to vote for. A game of sorts begins — press that button whose symbol you like the most. The election remains free. Remains fair. Remains democratic. But does absolutely nothing towards building a democracy.
As a movie, Newton is free flowing, always light on its feet, full of poignant scenes. In one of my favourite moments, Rajkumar explains to the villagers that by voting they will decide which candidate wins the election and goes to the Parliament in Delhi as their leader, voicing their opinions, bringing back aid for them. The villagers on hearing this, instantly pull up an old man, pointing out that he is their leader, and hence, he can be taken to Delhi.
Laugh hard at this scene and then cringe as you realise that many such indigenous cultures still live in the nation’s heartland and are yet to be attached to the mainstream. They don’t understand a democratic election, and we, don’t understand them.
Rajkumar is the hero no doubt, literally the Newton of the movie. His blinking innocence is evident in every dialogue, in every action he takes. He believes in fairness. He believes in the system. He has faith in the responsibility handed down to him. But in the end he is defeated. He gets voters to vote alright, but to what end?
A strong supporting cast lifts up Newton’s narrative. Raghubir Yadav as Loknath, a writer whose next tale shall be about “jombies” in the jungle, hits at a hard truth; these indigenous people, are they any better than zombies from the perspective of policy-makers sitting in the cities? Anjali Patil as Malko, a local school teacher, responds when asked, “Are you nirashaavadi (pessimistic)?” with an even-toned, “I am Adivasi” implying that her opinions matter little for she is tribal and exploitation is yet to abandon her. Sanjay Mishra in his classic way of delivering dialogues tells Newton that his biggest problem isn’t his honesty, it is the unnecessary pride he takes in it.
In the midst off all these fine artists, the finest in my opinion is Pankaj Tripathi, playing the role of a paramilitary commander Aatma Singh, who is extending security to the election officers. He is the antithesis of Newton. Where one is confident of the process, the other skeptic. Put them both in the same frame and they both outdo each other. An odd couple Newton and Aatma, but so perfectly balancing the scale by staying on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Newton is undoubtedly one of Indian cinema’s strongest work. A superlative storytelling, placed in an obscure, far-flung jungle, with scenes that will tickle your grey matter, this is not one to miss.
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Newton Is a Satire That Tickles Your Grey Matter was originally published in On Arts and Culture on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.