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Newton movie review: This one absolutely deserves to be at the Oscars

Jhinuk Sen | Updated on: 22 September 2017, 19:27 IST

It is official – Newton is India's Oscar entry. But does the movie deserve it? For a movie that does not have a single superfluous scene and is delivered as sharp as a paper cut – hell, yes. Newton deserves it.

 

It is a movie that slaps you with a whole truckload of truth with the finesse of your favourite relative condescendingly patting your cheek when you say something silly.

 

The premise of the story is simple. Elections are afoot in Chattisgarh, and when one of the election officer runs away, literally, from duty in a Maoist-heavy area, Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao) steps in.

 

Newton has one agenda – he wants to make sure that everyone in the area allotted to him votes. Every vote counts for the young officer, who carries the very real weight of India's democracy on his square shoulders.

 

The fact that every vote counts and every election, re-election counts – is drilled into Newton's pre-existing mould of righteousness by a mentor (Sanjay Mishra). Joking about the weight of his name, Newton is told that his namesake was the first socialist – the first scientist who proved that all laws and rules of the universe were the same. If Ambani and a chai waali jumps off a mountain, they would be hit by gravity and the earth the very same way.

 

With this delightful dialogue, scriptwriters Amit Masurkar and Mayank Tewari get the story going.

A long walk for democracy

Newton is joined in his quest by three others Loknath (Raghubir Yadav), Shambhoo (Mukhesh Prajapati) and Malko (Anjali Patil) as he makes his way into the jungle to set up a polling booth inside a dilapidated school building at the heart of a burnt down village.

 

Newton's motley crew is kept safe by Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) and his men. Tripathi does not mince words, he knows the rules of the jungle and plays by those.

 

The sides of right and wrong are not so easy to pick when you see a Maoist gun down a politician and when you see Atma Singh tell a foreign journalist that they need more money, better guns, night-vision goggles etc to deal with the insurgents.

 

...Bacche marr rahe hai,” Atma Singh tells Newton and you know that he isn't wrong. “Vardi mein vinti bhi dhamki lagti hai (Even requests sound like a threat in uniform)” – at the end of the day, these are just men doing their jobs.

 

What will we get by voting, villagers dragged to the polling booth ask – you know that they aren't wrong either. “Jhaande or daande se hi to desh chalta hai (The country is run by flags and sticks),” Loknath muses.

Heavy questions, heavier reality

Newton is a reality check. The movie does not feel the need to end on a positive note, it offers you no hope, no satisfaction, no condolences. It is the bitter pill that you have learned to swallow for decades, but are only seeing on screen now.

 

The law of the land differs in leaps and bounds between Newton's little town and little house that often loses electricity, where his parents try to get him to marry an under-age girl, and the jungles where all that the villagers want is to be left alone by both the army and the Maoists.

 

The law and rules of one does not define the other, when it ideally should. The only law that stands is perhaps gravity, because if shot, the dead will fall. Newton tries to make all rules work, Malko tells him that it won't happen overnight, sorry.

 

In the whole battle between the Centre and the insurgents, the villagers are collateral. There is a bit of a narrative that has a woman chasing a chicken around the village as the army rounds up people with voter ID cards. She proceeds to kill the chicken, cook it and then two pots are shown being carried to the voting booth where every sits for lunch. “Laal Salad,” says Aatma Singh. The irony could not be more perfect.

 

In this theatre of the absurd, played out between the CRPF and the Maoists, the villagers are devoured as journalists come and go, chatting over chai and biscuits once the cameras are put down (There is a blink and miss appearance by Mayank Tewari). The real grit and angst never breaks the fourth wall. We, ensconced in our indifference on this side of the screen, won't ever know what it is like.

 

The foreign journalist asks a villager if he has been forced to come and vote – he stares listlessly at the men with the guns in their hand. There is no fear on his face, there is just bitter, wordless resignation.

“We actors are the opposite of people”

The script sneaks in brilliantly with a nice ebb and flow. The actors hold their own and keep up with it as well. Pankaj Tripathi stands out with his performance, with his shrugs and smirks conveying more than whole sentences could.

 

Anjali Patil is brilliant as Malko. Her face is the perfect portrait of a pain-hardened past, one that comes out in words when she tells a dejected Newton that they have grown up witnessing such 'absurdity' every day.

 

Anjali Patil is brilliant as Malko. Her face is the perfect portrait of a pain-hardened past, one that comes out in words when she tells a dejected Newton that they have grown up witnessing such 'absurdity' every day.

 

Raghubir Yadav is the Shakespearean jester who has seen it all, and now has come to accept that life is like this. His anecdotes, especially the story he plans on writing about election officers coming face to face with an army of zombie villagers, are gold.

Rajkummar Rao is perfect as Newton. He handles the role with the perfect restraint. He is that rare breed of actors who know exactly when to reign it in, and when to let it all hang out. He nails the character down to his little quirks and ticks. But, for me, there is something missing in this performance. You appreciate Newton, you want to pat him on the back for being righteous, but you do not feel for him.

His anger at broken rules, and his exasperation at failing does touch your psyche. You desperately wish there was a back story somewhere to be able to understand him better. Everyone else seems to have a back story except him – all you get to know about Newton's past is that he sat for the IAS exams and didn't clear it.

This, however, is not to say that Rajkummar fails. Like his character, he just does his job, you never get to know 'why'.

Should you watch it?

Yes. Absolutely. You'd be an idiot to miss this.

 

Rating: 4/5

First published: 22 September 2017, 19:09 IST
 
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