India’s official selection for the Oscars 2018, this 106-minute experience depicts the politics of elections and holds up a mirror to us, without once erasing the smile off our faces.
If Anil Kapoor’s modest character in the film Eeshwar (1989) – who lives every second of his life by the book – is re-cast today in the role of a Presiding Officer at the elections, you would get the equivalent of Rajkummar Rao’s character Newton. The sardonic film Newton is a non-simplistic tale revolving around a straightforward man who refuses dowry, opposes child marriage and has been appointed to conduct fair elections in the Naxalite dominated forests of Chattisgarh. In turn, he meets Pankaj Tripathi, an army officer who is responsible for the security of the polling area, as well as the ant-eating indigenous tribes who live amidst a fear of guerrilla attacks.
Amit Masurkar’s plot has matured since 2014’s independent slacker comedy Sulemani Keeda. Though Newton sails along at a slothful pace with the rare exhilaration of traps and sequences, the film grips the audience through its witty dialogues and watertight performances. In particular, the film excels when ultra-intellectual actor Sanjay Mishra makes a special appearance and explains the essence of life to Newton in simple words – “Loyalty towards one’s job is not a favour but duty.”
Swapnil Sonawane’s camera skills convey exemplary cinematography. An era almost akin to Italian neo-realism is portrayed through prolonged shots and cross angles, exaggerating the depth of the subjects and their surroundings – as in a scene showing the vastness of Newton’s intellect, where his head has been amazingly juxtaposed by the backdrop of a blackboard. Actor Raghubir Yadav, who plays the role of a subordinate election officer, spontaneously delivers inventive slapsticks. Yadav’s humour is amplified in encounters where the rookie Newton, conversely, tries to maintain his seriousness, professionalism, ethics and sincerity. International theatre actress Anjali Patil, who has already proven her talent in films like Delhi in a Day and With You, Without You maintains her politeness while playing the role of Malko, a native of the jungle and a team member of the electoral staff.
The depth of the dialogues in the film resides in silences rather than words, and Pankaj Tripathi is a master in unspoken eloquence. His facial expressions never fail to fill the audience with surprise as to the unpredictability of what will come next. Silences are filled with dramatic sound scores by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor. But having only a single song ‘Chal Tu Apna Kaam Kar’, the film could have been a more delightful experience had it conveyed a song in the voice of veteran songster Raghubir Yadav.
Newton is a masterpiece of independent cinema, whose success should not be judged based on its coming box-office collections. The concept of driving a film based on its creative content is now becoming Drishyam Films’ niche. Besides Newton, the production line is already renowned for reforming Hindi cinema by distributing such movies as Masaan, Ankho Dekhi, Waiting and Dhanak in the past. An increasing appreciation for such subtle small-town stories is being welcomed by audiences and critics alike. Newton’s selection as 2018’s official Oscar entry from India is the best example of this.
The only instance when I felt like taking a leisurely break was when the typical Bollywood breed of ‘shirtless macho man’, Varun Dhawan, arrived on the screen during the 3-minute long extended trailer of Judwaa 2. I am not privileged with the task of rating movies by stars yet, but if I could, I would definitely fill the entire rating bar of Newton with the celestial symbols.
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