After giving some really good performances earlier this year, Rajkummar Rao returns with Newton, another formidable effort to showcase that he is an acting force to reckon with. Newton is directed by Amit Masurkar (Suleimaani Keeda), and is co-produced by Aanand L Rai, who had a winner in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan last month. Here’s our review of the movie, that has been getting rave reviews at various film festivals.
What’s it about
Nutan Kumar, who rechristened himself as Newton (Rajkummar Rao), is very idealistic in nature and wants to reform the society in his own capacity. He is assigned to be an election officer in a Maoist-infested village in Chattisgarh, to conduct polling for around 76 voters. Accompanying him in this task are two clerks and a local girl from the area, Malko (Anjali Patil). Wanting to do full justice to his job, Newton wants everything to play by the rule-book. However, his righteousness doesn’t bode well with his own team, as well as the leader of Security Forces, Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi). As the day rolls, Newton finds that his values don’t hold much water in a land where bullets rule and people don’t even know how to vote. Will Newton cave in to what the society expects him to do or will he change the world for good? You have to watch the movie to know the answer.
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Voting is a right our constitution confers upon us but many of us use it as a privilege. But there are many areas in our country where people still have no clue what polls are and how they can change the world they live in. Newton shows us one such world in that little hamlet in Chattisgarh, where villagers live in the fear of both the army and the Naxals. It’s scary to see how people exist in such places and there is one poignant scene where we realise that these villagers know that no matter whom they vote for, nothing is going to change for them. The youngsters, who really want to vote are kept at bay, while the elders, who fear for their lives, are forcibly brought to vote. Why? Because the administrators want to look good in front of the media. The scarier part is that you know it happens around you.
What works best for Newton is that the director presents ideologies of different characters in the movie, and lets us choose a side. Newton may want to change the world with his ideals, but at one point, you just want this guy to shut up and adjust to the world. Aatma Singh may come off as an a-hole but he is someone who is protective of his team and doesn’t want any harm to befall on them because of an election. Then there is Malko, who is in complete acceptance of the world she lives in, and while the clerk Loknath may come across as laidback, he just wants to do his duty and go home. In the big murky picture, there is no right or wrong.
But Newton is not a grim movie at all, in fact, it is a subtle satire laced with ample moments of black humour. Like there is a scene at the beginning when Newton’s parents rant about him when the power goes off, and stop doing so when it returns and the TV comes alive. Or that hilarious scene where a DGP flirts with a foreign journalist, raving about Al Pacino. But then there are also scenes that are darkly comic, but you really don’t feel like even smirking at them. The writing is nearly tight, especially towards the concluding portions of the movie. The cinematography captures the lurking suspense of the hinterlands perfectly.
Coming to the performances, every main player in the cast is excellent and aptly cast. Rajkummar Rao gives yet another ace performance that will surely be his best of the year (which already has seen three superlative performances from the National Award winner). His character could have easily come off as a bore, but it is the earnestness he brings to his act that makes us root for him. Pankaj Tripathi is turning out to be one of the best character artists in Bollywood. After Bareilly ki Barfi, this is another winning performance from him. In fact, in quite a few scenes, he even outscores Rajkummar with his dry, sarcastic wit. Anjali Patil is another wonderful actress whom we don’t see much often on screen, and she is incredible here. Raghubir Yadav is perfect as always, while Sanjay Mishra sparkles in a cameo.
Sure, Newton is funny at places, but it lacks the mainstream sensibilities to draw in the crowds. The premise, while educative, could be seen as niche by some sections of the audience. There are also some pacing issues towards the middle portions of the movie, especially when Newton and his team are trying to set up the polling booth. The abrupt ending will not be digested by everyone, as the movie doesn’t exactly give a clear answer to what really happened in the aftermath (though the clues are there in the post-climax portions if you observe carefully).
What to do
Newton is one of the best-made satires in Bollywood, especially since it is a genre that is nearly dying in Indian cinema. It shows us a stark portrayal of democracy. Though it is not exactly mainstream in its sensibilities, there are enough moments to laugh with the characters, and sometimes at our own selves. Brilliantly enacted, well-written and smartly directed, Newton is a must-watch if you have a craving for good cinema.
4.0 out of 5
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