Newton movie cast: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav, Anjali Patil , Danish Hussain, Sanjay Mishra
Newton movie director: Amit Masurkar
Newton movie rating: 4 stars
Every five years in India comes a day when the populace votes in a new polity, but the process is almost never straight-forward or simple: Newton could also, just as easily, have been called A Day In The Life Of The World’s Largest, Most Complex Democracy. Or, The Great Indian Electoral Circus.
The film takes us down the tangled jungles of Chhattisgarh, over-run by Naxals and security details and other inimical forces, intersected on that fine day by an upright, uptight election officer Newton (Rao), and his companions — school teacher Malko (Patil) and seasoned polling veteran Loknath (Yadav), who understands just how important a deck of playing cards is to the process.
It’s rare that an Indian film uses dark comedy to make its points so effectively: in Newton we go from smiling to laughing outright even at its grimmest, because the film is light on its feet, and the tone is consistent right through.
Who do the Dandakaranaya forests, with their vast mining reserves, now depleted by the rapacity of greedy corporates, in tandem with corrupt, lazy government officials and complicit security forces, belong to? The Adivasis who have lived there for centuries, or the state, who owns us all? And even more importantly, just what does being a citizen of a democracy mean, on paper, and the way it plays out in real life.
There’s also a broader point the film is making without making too much of it, tantalizingly within reach for those who wish to reach out: while the process of elections may not make a whole lot of sense for those who may never have seen a polling booth in their lives, and the notion of democracy may have been undermined in these past decades, the sheer importance of it keeps us going. As a people, and as a nation.
These are questions —hard, jabbing, courageous— that our films do not ask enough. For years they have been the purview of bleeding heart academics, left-leaning persuaders, and hard-nosed news reporters. Newton is a film to celebrate because it shows without telling, laying out the layers without descending into shrillness or facile solutions, and leaving us with a glimmer of hope.
Director Amit V Masurkar and co-scriptwriter Mayank Tewari have crafted a strong black comedy. It is as sharp and subversive as the classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, and even though it is entirely sobering, it leaves us feeling just a little better about ourselves.
The redeemer is Nutan Kumar aka Newton (Rao), stodgy, not necessarily the brightest card in the pack perhaps, but who will do what needs doing. A small cog in the giant wheel of nation-keeping, whose dedication to the job is both funny in the truest way, and exemplary. And one of the funniest bits is the completely inadvertent connection between a loaded gun, and the smooth passage of that crucial democratic rites-of-passage: voting.
Rajkummar Rao is enjoying a purple patch. After Bareilly Ki Barfi, here he is again stitching up a big performance full of small things: blinking, thinking, doing. He is at his most interesting when he is being quiet: he makes us watch. Pankaj Tripathi, as the head of the security detail, cynical yet doing the best he can, is lovely too. For once the talented Patil has been used well, and as for Raghubir Yadav, he gives us, after Peepli Live, another stand-out act, a lesson in How To Immerse Yourself Effortlessly In Your Role.
Except for momentary descent into needless cliche (a foreign TV hack who has clearly helicoptered in on an ‘Indian election tourism’ tour), and a couple of flat notes, Newton stays firmly on course. Join it.