Newton is a strong contender to be India’s entry to Oscars, as it has the best festival run and also it is one of the best reviewed Indian films this year. It premiered in Berlin, where it won an award (The CICAE Art Cinema). The North America premiere was in competition at Tribeca. The other festivals it has traveled to include, Hong Kong (Young Cinema award), Buenos Aires, Edinburgh, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Zurich, etc and counting.
Newton-the name comes from Nutan Kumar. Nu became New and tan became ton, to avoid ridicule from kids growing up with him. Rajkumar Rao plays the protagonist Newton, an idealistic government servant, waitlisted for the election duty. He gets his chance to be presiding election officer, when the person selected for the task, refuses to go in remote location in the dense Dandkaranya forest, which is infested with the Naxals, the dangerous, violent leftist. The Naxals have killed a politician in ambush, and have appealed the villagers, who are primarily tribals not to participate in the elections, emphasizing their boycott of the Indian state.
Newton and his teammates are air dropped in the remote location. Atma Singh played by Pankaj Tripathi is a high headed cop assigned with the task of providing security to the election officials and the polling booth. Anjali Patil plays the role of Malko a tribal teacher posted for election duty. Raghubir Yadav’s character is a reluctant assistant to Newton, who is always willing to abandon the polling booth.
Newton faces resistance from everybody around him in every step he takes in conducting elections. It seems like everybody except him thinks that election is a waste exercise, which nobody is interested in. For others its not a risk worth taking putting their lives on the line for a futile cause. But Newton is determined to perform his duty against all the odds.
The film is an example of how a mere1% people, who are honest can make a huge difference, even when the rest are corrupt or have compromised their morals or ethos. For this spineless society, which has no voice, those who constitute this 1% people are the only ray of hope, the ones which prevent the society from crumbling. These are the very people, who provide us inspiration, whom we can look up to. For e.g. for hundreds of Arnabs there is one Ravish. The film is extremely relevant to our times, as a lot is at stake. the writers Amit Masurkar and Mayank Tewari, must be praised for coming up with this novel, uplifting idea and presenting it in a joyful, enjoyable and accessible form.
The vetted actors do their job well. Rajkumar induces subtle nuances like winking of eyes, meek body language, which gives him nerd like characteristics of somebody going by the book, an idealist. Anjali Patil blends effortlessly as a tribal teacher. The use of real tribal people, makes the imagery vivid. A rare feat for a Hindi film like this getting a big theatrical release.
Praise must be showered on Manish Mundra for supporting this gem of an idea. He has a knack or perhaps a sixth sense of picking up good stories and directors. It is a rare feat that so many films produced by him have not only been selected in top festivals, but also won awards in a short span of time.
Lensing by Swapnil Sonawane is apt. Choice of anamorphic lens is perfect to exploit the foliage, wide canvas of the jungles. The film has been shot on Alexa and Cooke Anamorphic lenses have been used. The new lenses have a modern coating, which makes images sharp, reduces flaring and chromatic aberration. But what makes Anamorphic images beautiful are the cinematic distortions caused by the before mentioned flaws. It would have been an interesting to see how the vintage lens would have looked like. But then the imagery would have looked dated. The film is very much about the current times. So the choice is justified. Editing by Shweta Venkat provides a good rythm and pace to the narrative. Neeraj Gera’s sound is clean, crisp, not more, not less. Sound design is good when you can hear everything, get a feel of the place, without seeking any attention.
Note: This is a guest review by indie filmmaker Manjeet Singh, the writer-director of “Mumbai Cha Raja”