In a scene in Amit Masurkar’s “Newton”, the eponymous protagonist is at his desk with a neck brace, thanks to an injury. It might be a brace, but in the way it prevents Newton from turning his head and hampers his movements, it might as well be a pair of blinkers.
It’s a sharp metaphor, one that conveys Newton’s defining characteristic - he’s single-minded in his pursuit of duty, refusing to be distracted or deterred by anything that might stand in the way.
Newton is a young, idealistic government officer who is determined to conduct his very first election duty with honesty and integrity. Never mind that the booth he is in charge of has a total of 76 eligible voters and is in the middle of a jungle infested with Maoist rebels. Never mind that Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), the local police officer, is openly combative - or that his fellow election officials think he’s loony. Newton will do all it takes to ensure each voter gets a chance to cast his or her vote in the most free and fair manner possible.
But it’s no easy task. Aatma Singh is a morally ambivalent and ambitious officer who doesn’t get Newton’s idealistic way of thinking. The locals, caught in the middle of a crossfire between Maoist rebels and the police, are unsure why the election is important, and no one else seems to share Newton’s belief that the process is necessary.
It is surprising that it took so long for a film like this to be made in the world’s largest democracy. For those of us who are election junkies, “Newton” is a welcome peek into the fascinating world of an Indian general election and the processes and ideologies that govern it. But even if you don’t care about elections, “Newton” works on so many other levels - as a dark comedy, as the portrait of a naive man, and as the story of a land ravaged by war, where the biggest losers are the common people.
Masurkar and writer Mayank Tewari never let the heaviness of the subject get to them. The 109-minute film is replete with deadpan humour and clever dialogue. The cast of characters, especially Raghubir Yadav as a jaded election official and Anjali Patil as a teacher, is a wonderful fit. But it is the sparring between Newton and Aatma Singh and the ideologies they represent that are the real highlight of the film. Both Rajkummar Rao and Tripathi are pitch perfect.
Nothing in “Newton” is said obviously. Metaphors abound, and it is up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. But one thing is clear - Masurkar and Tewari make no bones about whose side they are on, even though the film pretends to be neutral.
That might not be such a bad thing though - films should be political, especially if they lead to conversations around politics and polity. “Newton” is one such film and definitely gets our vote.