Newton presents a conundrum that probably everyone in their lives faces at least once in their lifetime – be doggedly part of the system and go by the rule book or wrap yourself with the cloak of cynicism and disdain. Nutan Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), who insists on calling himself Newton, meets with this conundrum when he takes up the duty of a presiding election officer.
The film starts with a rather simplistic and redundant rider on the state of Chhattisgarh and Naxalism – a movement waged by renegades “popularly known as Maoists.” But take a look at the multiplex audience around, and you would be inclined to think perhaps that foreword is necessary.
Young, idealistic Newton is willing to change his name from Nutan to Newton, but not marry an underage girl despite his father promising him “zindagi bhar ghee mein dooba rahega (he will be drowning in ghee all his life).” Newton likes to live by his ethics and call of duty. But, as Sanjay Mishra (in a brilliant cameo) astutely points out, his righteousness is misplaced if he wears it as a badge. Newton’s black and white world faces a monumental challenge when he is sent out on election duty in the Maoist-controlled jungles of Dandakaranya.
Yang to Newton’s Yin is Army officer Atma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi). He has seen the great Indian farce – the parliamentary elections – unfold in insurgent areas of Kashmir, Manipur. He views Newton’s determination to hold polls in the Maoist-controlled area as foolhardiness. He is willing to indulge Newton as long as he gets to hold the leash.
Director Amit Masurkar’s credit lies in presenting a nonpartisan narrative and not depending on dramatic crutches to make a point. The reality of India’s democracy is revealed when a tribal voter cluelessly looks at the EVM machine – he doesn’t know how it works. Heck, he doesn’t even know who all are contesting the election. The fact that these villagers are torn between their forced allegiance to the Maoist cadre and threats from the State forces is presented as a simple truth. Mayank Tewari’s witty dialogues and Swapnil Sonawane’s effortless cinematography manage to alleviate the situation and bring forth the absurdity and dark humour.
Newton’s story is neither new nor shocking, but it is the stellar performances that make the film work. Newton’s bullish honesty can be endearing and exasperating. This character could have easily turned into a caricature, but with Rajkummar Rao’s portrayal, you end up empathising with him. Newton doesn’t want to change the world, he merely wants to do his duty. Matching Rajkummar Rao’s skills is Pankaj Tripathi. If Newton is the protagonist, is Aatma Singh the antagonist? Not really. In the Army officer’s world, you make the rules depending on the situation. He is not the bad guy; after all, he is also trying to do his duty when put in the line of fire. Raghubir Yadav as the government employee who would rather write zombie stories than debate on the complexities of the Indian electoral system, and Anjali Patil as the efficient and informed Adivasi teacher add colour to the film.
Amit Masurkar’s Newton neither raises any questions nor tries to find any answers. It presents the world as it is. It might be easy to be cynical and apathetic, but even staunch idealism and good intentions flounder in the face of the conundrum called Indian democracy.
The Newton review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.