Newton

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Newton
"Even though Newton is a stickler, there's an appealing purity to his views and he remains likeable almost despite himself."

Idealism crashes into reality in Amit Masurkar's latest feature, which despite its humour, has a serious point to make about democracy in India.

Rajkummar Rao is Newton, a young idealistic sort, who believes in doing things by the book, and is quick to point out to his parents that their planned arranged marriage involves a girl who is underage. This stickler mindset is also on show at the local meeting of election volunteers. Unlike the others, he seems unperturbed by the prospect of heading to the conflict-torn region of Chhattisgarh, where Maoists are determined to scotch the elections at any cost, more intent on the detail of what will happen if the initial election is sabotaged.

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He's soon progressed from reservist to action, finding himself airlifted to the middle of nowhere in order to register the votes of 76 locals. Armed only with his rules, he immediately finds himself locking horns with Atma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), the head of the security team aiming to protect Newton and his team. With a cynicism that feels as though it has been growing for years, Singh suggests Newton is on a hiding to nothing but the young man is not for turning.

As his team - including local observer Malko (Anjali Patil) and clerk Loknath (Raghuvir Yadav), head into the jungle, it becomes clear that 76 votes may not sound like much but they are going to be hard to come by. Masurkar shows the absurdity of vote casting when you're disenfranchised in every other possible way. The villagers are threatened by the Maoists and coerced by Singh's officers at the same time as having not the slightest clue about what each of the potential candidates actually stands for. Newton, for his part, sticks to his guns - or his pens, at least - even as the evidence of the ridiculousness of his task becomes more acute.

"Nature treats everyone the same," Newton is told near the start of the film but it quickly becomes apparent that some are more equal than others, with a visit by a local dignitary and press team further amping up the satire. Even though Newton is a stickler, there's an appealing purity to his views and he remains likeable almost despite himself. There are some age-old ideas here and elements of the film feel familiar but Masurkar strikes a decent balance between humour and tension that slowly tightens its grip. Although it drifts towards staginess in places, the director and his cinematographer Swapnil S SonawaneBeneath make good use of the jungle to give the film a strong sense of place. Underneath all the film's comedy there's a steely insistence that there's a lot more to democracy than a booth and a button and that India's embrace of the concept still has a long way to travel.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2017
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A young bureaucrat named Newton is sent to the jungle to monitor an election there. But Maoist blockades, forced police protection and indifferent voters make defending democracy no easy task.

Director: Amit Masurkar

Writer: Amit Masurkar, Mayank Tewari

Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathy, Anjali Patil, Raghuvir Yadav, Mukesh Prajapati

Year: 2017

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: India

Festivals:

BIFF 2017
Tribeca 2017

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