This Indian indie film has been sweeping awards around the world
Film-maker Amit Mansurkar mines electoral comedy in his political satire, Newton
Amit Masurkar’s sophomore feature could not be better timed. The filmmaker’s follow-up to the mumblecore comedy Sulemani Keeda (2014) tackles the most perplexing spectacle of our times: elections. In this bizarre political landscape, Masurkar says, we could all benefit from a closer read of democracy. “Unfortunately, news and TV debates have turned into big slugfests, so you don’t arrive at conclusions or learn anything new. During elections, people who don’t otherwise bother with politics will vote so they can put up a photo of their [inked] finger. This is how it is, sadly. So I thought let me make an entertaining film around politics,” he says.
Newton is the story of a poll officer—the titular role is played by Rajkummar Rao—who is assigned election duty in a conflict-ridden jungle of Chhattisgarh. “The film is based on the 2014 elections in the region, and although it’s not a true story, [several] events in the film are real and have been reported in the media.” Newton releases next month after generating much acclaim at international film festivals. Here, Masurkar offers a quick preview:
“I wanted to make a film about democracy, since we are the largest democracy in the world. As part of my research, I read the Preamble [to the Constitution] and realised just how big the gap is between the written word and how things play out. Hopefully, this film
will spark a conversation.”
— Amit V Masurkar (@Amit_Masurkar) June 13, 2017
“When I was writing the film, I received a friend request from someone called Newton, and I thought that’s a very interesting name. I decided to use it for the lead character, Newton Kumar, because he is a quirky, crazy, idealistic guy, much like Isaac Newton.”
“I set the film in Chhattisgarh because it is the heart of the country and also because there is a lot of conflict in the area. And unlike say, Kashmir or Mizoram, the conflict is not about seceding from the country. It’s about basic rights. There is a lot of injustice being inflicted on the tribal population; their land is being taken over by the mining mafia. I thought this was an important story to tell.”
“Newton was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival; at Berlinale 2017, where we won the Art Cinema Award [Forum Section]; at the Hong Kong International Film Festival where we won the Jury Prize for best film. The interesting thing is, despite being set in a small jungle in India, it resonated with people from around the world. Elections everywhere are being used to legitimise what the majority wants, but what the majority wants is not always right.”
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