I tried to get myself to call Newton a beautiful movie or a great movie or give it any number of pleasant adjectives. Because, for me, the adjective that defined Newton was haunting. Yes, it is a “great” movie as per the regular standards of judging a movie, but if I were to say how I felt watching it, I would say that it is mostly dispiriting. It is a movie filled with blank faces, resignation, apathy, neglect and total disregard for sensitivity in some case. The haunting feel of the movie is only enhanced by who simply it has been shot, sometimes with handheld cameras, and evocative feel of the sound of Sal leaves crunching on the forest floor throughout the movie. The half barren Sal trees of this forest, also known as Dandakaranya from the age of Ramayana, seem to mock you. Yes, they do, because, in today’s times, the only folks bearing the hardships of proverbial Vanvaas ( banishment to the forest ) are the tribals, for whom, the forest has been their home for as long as they know.
I would clarify that this is not my review of the situation, distribution of blame among the involved parties or the administration’s actions/inaction by any means. Naxalite-Maoist insurgency is a subject too complicated for someone like me, with limited understanding and virtually no exposure. I will stick to talking about the movie. Newton Kumar ( played by Rajkummar Rao, it goes without saying that he is AMAZING!, please pardon my favouritism ) is a curly haired, rule-abiding,
somewhat impractical to a great extent, Presiding officer at an election booth in Loksabha Election in the Naxal-infested forest in Chhatisgarh. He is shown to be munching an apple in the opening scene ( an extremely smart, not so subtle to the name of our character here ) and reading an Election commission handbook of rules. There are 78 tribals, almost cut off from the civilization, registered at the booth and let me tell you, there could not have been a better way to draw a contrast here. The voters do not know Why to vote or Whom to vote for ( I loved the segment where the names and the symbols of the candidates flash while BLO reads out a list in the background ), but our Newton Kumar, very much like our democratically elected government believes that this farce of “Of the people, By the people, For the people” must be carried out, regardless of sensitivity of the situation. Believe me, I don’t mean to say that the whole exercise is pointless or meaningless, I mean in only in the context of this fragile situation these tribals are in. They have been forcibly moved to camps to gain back the control of the territory by the authorities, employment is non-existent and they are so busy barely surviving that they cannot really afford to worry about their electoral rights. There is shot, slowing zooming out on Newton, with a bare, dust-covered blackboard of a derelict classroom in the backdrop, which made me feel, sad, extremely sad. But it describes a frustrated Newton aptly.
On the other hand is the Central Reserve Police Force officer Aatma Singh, ( played by Pankaj Tripathi, a delightful performance!! ) who, if I will be honest, is as much a central protagonist as Newton Kumar. He does agree, or rather, understand the premise of Newton’s insistence about making sure that a fair and smooth election be carried out at this booth. Although he does come across as a bit insensitive and callous by nature – he suspects the tribal kids of spying on behalf of Naxalites and calls one of them Mowgli, his men routinely bully the tribals and more – but he believes that he carries the burden of protecting his nation on his shoulders and considers his rifle as a symbol of that burden. He asks Newton, ” What is two plus two by two?” When Newton says it is 2, he goes on to mock Newton’s insistence on following the rules to the T by saying, “रोंग 3 । रूल्स रूल्स करते रहतें है, पर सबसे बेसिक रूल भूल गए आप. एड्डीशन से पहले डिवीज़न करना पड़ता है | ” ( Wrong, it is 3. You keep mentioning the rules, but you forgot the most basic rule. You have to divide before you add. ) He is a practical man, risking bullets from Naxals on an everyday basis, and reminds Newton that sometimes you need to take a step backwards before you move forward. He goes as far as faking an ambush by getting a few shots fired in the air to scare Newton and the rest of officials into closing the booth much earlier than the scheduled closing time. Newton catches up with his play and insists on reopening the booth. It is no surprise that Aatma Singh is pissed off and a dramatic run and chase ensues. At one point, Newton holds those very policemen at rifle point ( remember the symbol of the burden of the nation I mentioned earlier, 🙂 🙂 ) in order to let 4 young tribal men and women cast their votes in the middle of the forest. The wonderful aspect of this movie for me is that if Newton is a hero, so to speak, of the movie, that does not make Aatma Singh and anti-hero by consequence. There is a delicate balance of black and white between them which is palpable throughout the movie.
The election commission head ( a short but effective cameo played by Sanjay Mishra ) tells Newton: तुम्हें पता है न्यूटन तुम्हारा प्रोबलेम क्या है? ( Do you know what your problem is, Newton? ), to which Newton replies: मेरी ईमानदारी? ( my honesty ?) . And the answer that Newton receives is in my opinion, not just for him, but also for the rest of us – the government that wants to carry out this electoral exercise as a means of good PR in international media with a care for this affected populace; it is meant for us, who flaunt our inked fingers proudly and move on to public littering and tax evasion, without batting an eyelid. The answer that Mishra provides is: नाह, तुम्हारी ईमानदारी नहीं। तुम्हारा पप्रोबलेम है तुम्हारा अपनी ईमानदारी पे घमंड। तुम कोई ऐहसान नहीं कर रहे हो नियमों का पालन करके, येह आपकी ज़िम्मेदारी है। ( No, not your honesty. Your problem is your arrogance about you following the rules. You are not doing everyone a favour, it is your responsibility to follow the rules ).
Summarising, I can say that Newton is a wonderful reminder of the gravity of the situation for us. As Sanjay Mishra’s character explains to Newton, the greatest significance of Sir Isac Newton’s Three Laws of Motion lies not in this physics, but in its quality of immutability. It is the same for you, for me, for the Pope of Roman Catholic Church and for the President of United States of America. It is the same for the privileged and for the underprivileged. As the first law states, “Unless acted upon by a force, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity.” Sometimes it does take a Newton to push Aatma Singh, and in a larger context, the soul of a supine society like ours. I am not sure of the magnitude of action needed to invoke a positive reaction from the populace of India.