The ballot is stronger than the bullet – Abraham Lincoln
Politics lends itself well to #Satire and that some of the best black comedies, like Charlie Chaplin’s #TheGreatDictator, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb were all rooted in politics is only further proof of the same. In apna Bollywood such films are few and far in between partly because successive regimes have been less tolerant of such films. After all it has been over three decades since that rare gem called JAANE BHI DO YAARON released. But in the last few years films like #AnushaRizvi’s PEEPLI LIVE, Sourabh Srivastava’s OH MY GOD and #SubhashKapoor’s JOLLY LLB have shown that things are changing. In that sense Amit Masurakar’s #NEWTON could not have released at a better time.
A story is something of a rarity in most Bollywood fillums. But this one actually has one. Newton is the story of this honest (to a fault) guy called Nutan Kumar (Rajkumar Rao) who along with his two colleagues is given the risky assignment of presiding over polls in the Dandakaranya forests. The job is risky because the area is #Naxal dominated. What happens on election day is what NEWTON is all about.
SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES
NEWTON is penned by the director himself along with writer Mayank Tewari (the lead actor with dishevelled hair who spouts the ‘Ganja Mangoge Coke Denge, Rishwat Mangoge Thok Denge’ line in Masurkar’s debut slacker film, SULEMANI KEEDA) Tewari is there in this one too but in a blink-and-you-miss role as a scribe. The best part about the writing here is that NEWTON touches upon several issues (democracy, the Naxal problem, woman empowerment, conditions of tribals) all at once but without ever feeling the need to hammer home the point (which was the case with PEEPLI LIVE) At one point during the film, Rajkumar’s character asks a polling booth officer whether she is a NIRASHAVADI (meaning pessimist) To which her terse reply is ‘Main Adivasi Hoon’ That one line sums up NEWTON. And at less than two hours (109 mins) the film has no flab that it needs to shed.
There are no songs in NEWTON really but for the inspiring ‘Chal Tu Apna Kaam Kar’ that appears towards the end and it really does give one goosebumps. The background score by Benedict Taylor is minimal and is in keeping with the subtle style of narration that the film has. The DOP #SwapnilSonawane seems to have a thing for films that are ‘hatke’ what with his other film being the 2015 feminist fillum ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES. Though the temptation to use the vast forests of #Dandakaranya as a character in itself must have been immense, in keeping with the ‘less is more’ ethos of NEWTON Sonawane refrains from getting self indulgent. Special mention must be made of Shweta Venkat Mathew (of GANGS OF WASSEYPUR fame) whose crisp editing ensures that NEWTON never slips into docu-feature mode. And one cannot praise enough #DrishyamFilms who have consistently backed quality independent films like AANKHON DEKHI, MASAAN, DHANAK and now NEWTON.
In it’s scope, style and canvas NEWTON bears a slight resemblance to the #AamirKhan production PEEPLI LIVE and Amit Masurkar acknowledges this by casting the lead actor of that film Omkar Das Manikpuri in a minor role (he even has a funny scene where he tries to pitch network marketing to the character of Rajkumar Rao) But it is the other actor from that very film, #RaghuvirYadav who shines in the role of Loknath who has done his masters in Hindi but regrets not having learnt English. The scene where he has to attend to nature’s call in the forests is quite superb. #PankajTripathi follows his superb act in BAREILLY KI BARFI a few weeks ago with the role of CO Aatma Singh here. His role is in ways the anti thesis of everything that Rajkumar’s character stands for. He is manipuplative, shrewd and will circumvent rules just so that he has his way. Sanjay Mishra is so good in a delightful cameo that one actually wishes there was more of him.
#AnjaliPatil who has won praise on the international circuit for some of her previous work sinks her teeth into the role of a school teacher who hails from the local community. Whether it is while acting as the go-between for the villagers and Rajkumar Rao or while admonishing the hero for being unaware of the ground realities she is in ways the moral compass of NEWTON. For some strange reason #RajkumarRao in the role of Newton (a name that he confesses choosing only to avoid ridicule) kept reminding one of what is arguably Hrishida’s finest film SATYAKAM. And more specifically of Dharmendra’s character in the film. Like in that film Rajkumar Rao is an idealist but not without flaws of his own. (What Sanjay Mishra quite interestingly terms ‘Imaandari ka Ghamand’) And it is this very arrogance that almost gets him killed in the tense climax. With this role Rajkumar Rao again reaffirms that he is the best thing to have happened to Hindi cinema in recent years.
#AmitMasurkar who made his debut four years ago with the part-silly-part-funny SULEMANI KEEDA has upped his craft a few notches with this second film #NEWTON. He deals with a subject as tricky as that of the Naxal problem with rare maturity and never allows the film to become too grim. In fact there are several scenes in NEWTON where one laughed out loud only to become quiet realising how hapless the situation is (for the characters involved) Now that is an emotion that one has rarely experienced at the movies, certainly not in a Hindi film. And just for that one doffs one’s hat off to Masurkar.
2017 has been the year of small films. Films shorn of stars, hype, hoopla and songs. Films that actually boast of memorable characters, great writing and solid acting. NEWTON exemplifies all this and more. One fervently hopes that it reaches it’s target audience. Not really for the sake of the producer or the director but for those wanting to see good cinema come out of Bollywood. And NEWTON is clearly the best film one has seen so far this year.