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Newton & sticking to the Laws of Election

Newton & sticking to the Laws of Election
December 21
06:09 2017

MILPITAS, CA: “Newton” – India’s official entry to the Oscars which is now out of the race – had a private screening at Serra Theaters in Milpitas, California on Saturday, December 9, courtesy Star Synergy Entertainment.

The film’s protagonist is a small-town, idealistic young man (played by Rajkummar Rao), who has recently taken up a government job. He is given the responsibility of conducting an election in a particularly dangerous area, which has been a battleground between government forces and Naxalites (armed Communist revolutionaries). It is a thankless job, a posting that many other civil officers try to avoid, but our hero agrees.

Originally named ‘Nutan Kumar’ by his parents, he had changed his first name to the more intriguing ‘Newton’ at the time of his Class 10 Board examinations.

Newton is a man of principle, someone who deeply cares about following rules and doing the right thing, both in his personal and professional lives. This is illustrated by the incident where Newton walks out of an arranged match on discovering that the girl is a minor.

A couple of other officers accompany Newton on the election assignment. One of them is Loknath, an almost-retired officer, played with precise comedic chops by Raghuvir Yadav, and Krishna (Krishna Singh Bisht). They are ferried by helicopter to the camp where armed police officers greet them.

The head of the police unit is the cynical Aatma Singh, essayed by Pankaj Tripathi. Very early in the morning, the team gets ready to go and set up the polling station, and a young local woman named Malko Netam (Anjali Patil), joins them as the BLO.

Initially, Aatma Singh is suspicious of her but Newton insists that she go with them.

Clad in bulletproof vests – Malko refuses one as she feels safer without if the rebels attack – the government officials head to their posting, escorted by the heavily armed police who are constantly on the lookout for land mines and other threats.

To their disappointment, the venue for the polling station, Kondanar School is in a dilapidated state, situated in a tribal hamlet that seems deserted with burnt down houses. Newton and his colleagues get to work, sweeping and setting up tables and chairs and a makeshift booth in the form of a hollow cardboard box. Aatma Singh volunteers to have his men vote to fulfill turnout but Newton, a stickler for rules, refuses to have anyone else but registered local voters cast their votes.

As the day progresses, the officials are whiling away their time but no voter turns up. On further inquiry, Newton learns that the Maoist rebels have warned the people against voting and misinformed them that the polls close at 11:30 am instead of 3 pm. The young officer shouts out to passing tribals, informing them about the correct timings and even appeals to Aatma Singh to do a round of the villages, but the latter refuses.

The viewer gets a glimpse of tribal practices, with Malko’s reference to red ant bites as a preventive measure against malaria and the delicious chutney that they make out of these creatures.

While they are waiting for voters, Loknath humors his colleagues, with his latest writing idea that involves “jombies” (zombies) and his hilarious attempts to learn English.

Some locals do turn up to vote with their ID cards, but they are clueless about the candidates as well as the latest technology for voting – the electronic machine that captures votes. Newton and his colleagues earnestly explain the procedure to the villagers, but Aatma Singh in a bid to just have the whole thing done with, tells the villagers to vote for whichever party’s symbol catches their fancy, which Newton vehemently opposes.

Nevertheless, polling goes on. Suddenly during the lunch break, there are gunshot sounds and a reported ambush, so Newton and his colleagues have to pack up and flee. However, everything is not as it seems and Newton’s instincts as well as his stubborn idealism serve him well.

The question that the movie posts is – what is really meant by democracy? In a poignant scene, a villager states that elections do not really make a difference to their lives. One of the villagers asks whether the elected person will ensure they get a fair price for the ‘Tendu’ leaves that they gather.

However, Newton, a simple man doing his duty, ensures that the voice of the people is heard, from remote hamlets to the halls of power in Parliament. The film does not rub idealism in your face; instead, it is truly an ode to the unsung heroes and heroines who simply do their jobs with honesty; and yes, there are such people in the government. India can definitely be proud of its democratic institutions.

The screenplay by Amit Masurkar and Mayank Tewari is brilliant, with subtle humor sprinkled throughout. Amit, also the director, has done a superb job of capturing the characters and ethos of the script, and paced the film just right. The music by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor is minimal, yet impactful. The cinematography by Swapnil S. Sonawane does justice to the tribal abode and small-town India.

Rajkummar Rao nails the title role. The supporting cast complements him well, and one cannot but sympathize with all of them, be it even the police chief (Pankaj Tripathi), who is amused and angered by Newton’s steadfast loyalty to protocol. Anjali Patil as the tribal teacher and election official Malko, comes across as the perfect bridge between the suspicious locals and the government – practical, courageous and understanding. Raghuvir Yadav steals the show with his humor. Every other minor role and even the extras are authentic.

To sum up, India’s entry to the Oscars both honors and critiques democracy, all while making you laugh. That is no mean feat. This writer gives it a 5 star thumbs up!

Lakshmi Iyer
India Post News Service

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