Nutan Kumar, fed-up of the ragging he was subjected to all through school due to his feminine name, changed it to Newton — he is an MSc in Physics after all, he has some right to the ‘scientific’ name.
Newton (played by Rajkummar Rao), with his curly hair and nervous blink, seems to be rebelling against the petty-mindedness and greed of his family that wants him to marry an underage, under-educated girl for her dowry. To his mind, a life-threatening assignment in a remote Naxal-ridden village in Chhatisgarh must be a kind of escape.
In Newton, a dark satire, Amit Masurkar takes the audiences into the heart of India, where poverty, apathy and violence are part of life. Newton is to be the presiding officer to conduct elections in the tiny hamlet with 76 registered voters — miraculously they have a voter’s card, but no great desire to vote. Which government has ever done anything for them?
Newton is accompanied by an older, cynical bureaucrat (Raghubir Yadav) and a sleepy assistant (Mukesh Prajapati) who came along because he wanted to ride a helicopter. At the location is a tribal school teacher, Malko (Anjali Patil) and armyman Atma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), who has survived other trouble spots and intends to get out of Chhatisgarh alive.
He sees Netwon’s insistence in carrying out his duty by the rule book for the farce that it is, but he cannot dissuade the man from trudging through the forest to a filthy little room — ostensibly a school with no students — which is the designated polling booth. The Maoist Naxals are a constant invisible presence; the soldiers have to be vigilant about land mines and sudden ambushes, but Newton blunders in with the grand illusion that democracy will somehow be served if elections are held in this forgotten land.
There is the untold story of Malko, who managed to get herself an education and a job, and does it as well as she can, without hope of acknowledgment or reward. If she simply collected her salary and did no teaching, who would notice or care? But, she believes in change, no matter how slow— “a jungle does not grow overnight,” she says. She herself is a small harbinger of that unhurried progress.
Very few Hindi films show the real India, with no embellishment; Masurkar and his crew shot at real locations, with real Gond tribals as the supporting cast, and that keeps the audience in the film’s grip, till the curiously positive yet depressing ending.
Everybody would want Newton to be successful and happy, but how far does an honest man go in this corrupt system? One would want to catch up with Newton Kumar perhaps a decade later and see what becomes of him…and of Malko.
Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi are on a roll.. they sear the screen. The film has deservedly been chosen as India’s entry to the Oscars.