Free and Fair

Written by Pallavi Chattopadhyay | Published: December 23, 2017 1:07 am Newton has National Award-winning actor Rajkummar Rao stepping into the shoes of Newton Kumar, who is on election duty in a remote Naxal-infested village in Chhattisgarh that is inhabited by 76 people.

The Indian Express Film Club screened Amit Masurkar’s Newton, India’s official entry to the Oscars, for a houseful audience at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, on Thursday evening. During the post-screening discussions, Shubhra Gupta, film critic for The Indian Express, said, “There is so much going on and so much subtlety in the way things are unpacked for the viewers through the film. The film is about everything, about us as people, us as a country and us as the kind of politics we play.”

Newton has National Award-winning actor Rajkummar Rao stepping into the shoes of Newton Kumar, who is on election duty in a remote Naxal-infested village in Chhattisgarh that is inhabited by 76 people. Newton’s idealism and insistence on free and fair elections is pitted against a hostile political landscape where democracy and development have taken on new meanings. Though the film is out of the race for a Foreign Languages Oscar, it has stirred audiences across India.

Shubhra Gupta, film critic, at the Indian Express Film Club (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

Lekha Nair, a professor of physics at Jamia Millia, who was present at the screening, recalled her experiences as a presiding officer during the Delhi elections in 1998. “Friends and colleagues asked why I wanted to be a part of the elections? They said I would have to wake up and be at the venue at 5 am and should let go of the idea because I have a little child. But I was completely like Newton. I was wide-eyed and thought this was my opportunity to do my duty for the country.

There were people who poured in at sharp 5 am on a freezing November morning and stood in a long queue to cast their votes. It was a moving experience because they were unlike many urban people, who show up in the afternoon at nearby venues and do not like to stand in queue.” She further added, “It was so important for us to do everything correctly during the election. You feel the responsibility. It was not a job, but a duty.”

Other audience members said the film touched upon grassroot problems and Naxalism was just one of these. Pankaj Prateek Airy, 24, a software engineer at Barclays, said, “The title of the movie is a name that has been part of my life for a significant time. The writer has beautifully merged scientific and sociological perspective. Newton’s first law of motion states that something will remain in inertia or state of motion unless acted upon by an external force. The protagonist Newton is told by his female colleague that a jungle is developed over time and change cannot be brought about in a day. I guess Newton acts as an external source and takes the action of conducting elections by fighting against the odds.”

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