Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil
In Amit V Masurkar’s film, there is as much happening during the silences as is happening between the conversations. Newton is a plain film, yet crisp and entertaining to the extent it raises important questions without sounding preachy or being too melodramatic.
The backdrop might be election voting, but the film doesn’t confine itself to it and pans through various other elements of the current political and social scenario of the country – dowry, child marriage, and corruption among other things.
Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), a self-named government officer, is sent to the conflict-ridden jungles of Chhattisgarh, to conduct a free and fair voting process. Just that he’s a stickler for textbook instructions to the extent that he’ll not give up the task at his hand even two minutes prior to the official end time. He’s righteous and honest, but like his senior officer (Sanjay Mishra) points out in the beginning, he’s also arrogant about it and doesn’t see the greys amid the black and whites. Accompanying him during the visit are Loknath (Raghubir Yadav), an officer close to retirement, Shamboo (Mukesh Prajapati), probably the most content character in the film, and Malko (Anjali Patil), a well-educated tribal woman.
While Newton is an idealistic presiding officer, it’s Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripahi), who heads the security forces in the jungle where there are approximately 76 registered voters. His words claim to be well aware of the nooks, corners, threats, plusses, and minuses of the jungles and his actions remain in sync with them. He’s been in the force long enough to understand the grey practices.
Rao and Tripathi are in top form and deliver fine performances from their end. Rao is convincing and despite the righteousness and the principal-driven character, he manages to irk those with him. He nails even the minutest details of Newton’s character – whether it’s his blinking or the restrained dialogue delivery. Tripathi, on the other hand, gets the unpredictability of his character so accurately that you begin to understand the motives behind his actions. Such fine actors and it’s only a shame that Bollywood took this long to take notice of them.
The supporting cast pulls the right strings at the right time and makes you chuckle at the most unexpected moments. The simplest of dialogues are held up when mouthed in such convincing tones and the plainest of expressions are taken up a notch when delivered in such nuanced ways.
Both Newton and Aatma, however different in the approaches, depict the two ends of the same machinery. But do they care about the welfare of the tribal or it’s just a process they need to be done with? In fact, in a scene when Malko is asked if she’s a pessimist, she’s quick to answer, “Nahi, main adivasi hu” and that sets the idea straight. That it’s the tribals who’re innocent and are sucked into the vicious circle of motives and interests conspired by both state machinery and insurgents. But with this authentic tale, the makers have sharply handled the conflicting situations and instead of offering solutions, they’ve only posed pertinent questions.
Newton is a winner and celebration in more ways than one. The dark comedy asks questions that Bollywood usually shies away from, it takes to its own stride the social-political scenario and holds a mirror to the times we live in. The slow pace, in fact, only adds to the charm of the film.