NEWTON Movie Review: Art house fakery presented as Indian ‘reality’

 

It’s pretentious art house filmfakery to impress the film festival establishment that has been moving in a rut and thus slowly but surely destroying the art and craft of cinema in the name of nurturing and promoting it.

I take the sobriquet ‘festival film’ as a pejorative expression than praise now.

I don’t think the purpose of various cinema movements was to replace old film genres with new stinking cesspools of moribund creativity. That’s what has happened. 2017 was worse than 2016 and its getting worse progressively. The film festival circuit didn’t throw up a single significant path breaking and important film. It was like pigs were happy rolling in their own old stinking rotting shit. Sadly, some young ones also jump into the pigsty and revel in it.

 

I had an inkling that NEWTON was an ‘inspired’ work apart from the fact that it was a designer art house/festival film. After India Today discovered the ‘ALLEGED plagiarism’, my persistent doubt was confirmed and the Wikipedia article on the 2001 Iranian Film SECRET BALLOT by Babak Payami, which I don’t recall to have watched, sealed it finally.

 

The film totally plagiarizes the plot of the Iranian film and reproduces it in an Indian setting. If the producer and director of the film have any shame, they should voluntarily withdraw it from the Oscar race and apologize for their thievery. I’m reproducing here the plot of the 2001 Iranian film taken from the Wikipedia article

 

“The story begins at a small, two-man army post on a remote island. It is voting day, and an election agent is due to arrive by boat. A young woman arrives, collects the official voting box, and demands that the soldier on duty escort her around the island. They climb into a military jeep and begin driving around, looking for voters. The nameless woman is totally dedicated to her duty, a true believer in the importance of voting, a tireless worker, rather voluble and certainly not submissive. This confuses and angers the dim-witted soldier, who feels that a man should be the voting agent. Chador and all, she's clearly a liberated woman, a "city gal" as described by the soldier. The couple-by-necessity do eventually (jeep trouble aside) scour the land to find eligible voters among the sparse locals. The trek starts in a desert and gradually moves to somewhat greener places. It is educational for both parties. They encounter a variety of people (mostly illiterate peasants) and situations, which simultaneously instructs the two roamers and the audience. By the end of the film, only a few people have voted, and the young woman is largely disillusioned about the entire process. Several people refused to vote for the "approved" candidates, and one voted for her. There is an undercurrent of an unspoken affection having developed between her and the soldier.”

 

Just change the woman polling officer with Newton a.k.a Nutan Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), the hero of NEWTON & the soldier with the CRPF commandant Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) & instead of setting the story on a remote Iranian Island, set it in a location deep in Chateesgarh jungle, and you have the plot of the film retrofitted, with some variations and additional characterizations, to a seemingly Indian reality, an Iranian story planted on Indian soil.

 

The various political statements made in the film and its point of view come straight from the Maoist book of fantastic tales quoted from time to time by writers like Arundhati Roy to paint Indian democracy as sham, militaristic, oppressive, and draconian. In turn the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN quotes Roy to buttress her spurious argument that actually India is a hellhole and Pakistan is nothing less than heaven on the Earth and the land of the pure. 

The producer of NEWTON who got pissed off with my tweets won’t even know that next time the Paki Ambassador to the UN will also be quoting his film to tell the world that Indian democracy is a big joke.

He apparently believes that his film represents Indian reality as much as Arundhati Roy believes the romantic tales Maoist tell her on her adventure trips into the jungles of Bastar. And the Film Federation of India (FFI) that picked it up as India’s entry to the Academy Awards may not have imagined the possibility that the film is a great propaganda tool for the enemies of our nation. 

The political messaging of NEWTON is loud and clear. The writ of the Indian state does not run in Naxal infested areas or in Kashmir, our democracy rests on the gun power of our security forces that indulge in devious subterfuges to maintain a fake semblance of normality and democracy. It’s the Indian state that burns schools and villages in tribal belts and blames it on the Maoists and coerces the tribal people to live in camps created by it. It also shows that the ingenuous tribal population does not seem to care for the election process so much and wants ‘aazaadi’ from the Indian state as well as the Naxals.

This is the narrative every Maoist ideologue, separatist leaders of Kashmir,  and breaking India forces propagate in the media. Masurkar obviously was using their propaganda as his main resource, apart from purloining an Iranian plot. By that fact, unknowingly, he also draws an equivalence here between Iran, an Islamist Shiite state run by the edicts (fatwas) and whims and fancies of the Ayatollahs’ interpretation of Sharia, and a multi-ethnic, multilingual, and multi-cultural democratic and secular state like India that has seen many peaceful regime transitions through ballot boxes and EVMs.

The proof of this lies in the fact that even today democratically elected Marxist goons rule two of the Indian states while the rest of India rejects them comprehensively. 

In one of his interviews Masurkar said that he would like to see Indian democracy strengthened. This is how he does it, by reinforcing and endorsing the lies of murderous Maoists and our nation’s enemies through his not so subliminal messaging. He either does it idiotically or deliberately. Apart from this it’s an anecdotal film that achieves no cinematic breakthroughs, and fakes a regular art house template. The only interesting elements in this story are the peripheral characters essayed competently by a set of good actors like Raghuveer Yaadav, Sanjay Mishra and the rest.

 

New age filmmakers like Masurkar, their funders like Manish Mundra and the urban English speaking pseudo-intellectuals and Commie romantics of Arundhati Roy variety may not know it but the tribal and rural population of India is far more literate than them about the election process of India. I have seen and experienced it at close quarters since my early childhood. They have changed governments and taught lessons to authoritarian regimes with the power of their ballot. In spite of all attempts by Maoists and separatists to subvert our democratic process and establish their rule through the barrel of gun in remote tribal hamlets, they have failed. The film makes an indirect and critical reference to the Salwa Judum movement in Chateesgarh that gets the back of the Maoist, and their urban sympathizers up. The ‘exploitative’ Marwari shopkeepers from the plains of Chateesgarh did not conceive it. The popular tribal leaders of long standing took that initiative to free and protect their people from the Maoist thuggery.

 

And here is my sincere advice to young directors like Masurkar. They must develop a deep and disturbing sense of disgust for ‘festival films’ and must not become part of various ‘laboratories’ spawned by the film festival establishment. These labs produce clones and not artistes. This will help him step out of the rut and may probably pave the way for some path-breaking cinema coming out of Indian shores that revolutionizes cinematic storytelling and surprises and shakes the world.

 

Directed by Amit V Masurkar; Produced by Manish Mundra; Written by Amit V Masurkar; Screenplay by Amit V Masurkar, Mayank Tewari; Starring Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil, Raghubir Yadav, Music by Naren Chandavarkar & Benedict Taylor; Cinematography by Swapnil Sonawane; Edited by Shweta Venkat Mathew; Production companies Eros International, Drishyam Films.

Rajesh Kumar Singh

@khulkebolo @neelnabh

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