Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav, Anjali Patil, Mukesh Prajapati
Director: Amit V Masurkar
Above all things, Newton, directed by Amit Masurkar, is about the clash between idealism and reality.
It’s a sharp black comedy about a young man named Nutan Kumar aka Newton, an upright election officer played by Rajkummar Rao, who’s packed off to the jungles of Chhattisgarh to conduct polls for the 76 eligible voters in that troubled region. Because he’s idealistic to a fault, he immediately locks horns with Pankaj Tripathi’s character Aatma Singh, a cynical military officer assigned to protect the booth against the insurgents who’re likely to disrupt the voting process.
Masurkar, who has co-written the film with Mayank Tewari, mines humor from the most unlikely places. But it’s also a remarkably perceptive film that casts an honest, unflinching eye on the farce of the electoral process, imploring us to consider the notion of democracy that we take such pride in. It is moving too, especially the portions that reveal the extent to which tribals and poor rural folk are unscrupulously manipulated.
This is a film that raises burning questions but never pretends to have all the answers. It presents multiple points of view through its many characters, including Raghubir Yadav as Newton’s skeptic colleague Loknath, and Anjali Patil as practical-minded schoolteacher Malko. Both actors are terrific in their roles, never missing a beat, inhabiting their characters completely.
The heavy lifting, however, is left to Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, and expectedly they’re in rock solid form. Tripathi, who has been on a roll this year with substantial parts in Ankarkali of Aarah, Gurgaon and Bareilly Ki Barfi injects a dry, humorless quality to the world-weary Aatma Singh, who has little concern for protocol or procedure, and just wants to get everyone out of there alive, indifferent to Newton’s desperate need to conduct a free and fair election. Rao, meanwhile, offering another winning performance in another ‘everyman’ role, gets under the skin of Newton, bringing little details, little touches to round off the part. It’s hard to separate the actor from the character, and not many of our artistes can claim to possess that gift.
Newton is relevant and timely without being boring or inaccessible. You could say it lays on its message too thick in the end, or that the pace occasionally slips. But these are minor nigglings that never dent the impact of its thrust. I’m going with four out of five. It’s easily one of, if not the best Hindi film you’ll see this year. Make sure you make the time for it.