Amit Masurkar’s protagonist in Newton is someone with a rare privilege – of having named himself. Played by Rajkummar Rao, Nutan Kumar cheekily alters two vital syllables in his uncool name and turns Newton Kumar. The film opens with the MSc (Physics) graduate munching an apple. Quite immediately he is shown to fix the fuse, much like Isaac Newton whose contribution to science spreads across various specialities. Later at a briefing session for electoral officers, the youngster’s inquisitive trait is briskly put forward.
Consequently, the film takes us to the election process which almost unanimously is an exercise to fulfil Newton’s adamancy. He plays the officer card to set up a booth where no one bothers to turn up. Even the teacher from a local minority community who helps them with the process makes a valid point, “What difference does it make if the election happens or not?” As someone unaware of the local conflicts, the film reels on Newton’s thought process that a better administration can bring out magical changes to the lives of the ill-emancipated voters in the area. In the film’s finest scene, we see him explain the process and reason behind voting to a group of clueless senior citizens. This is soon interrupted by Singh who gives a different narrative to the whole election tamasha – leading to a brawl. It gets all the more exciting when the localities claim that they need freedom from Naxalites as well as the law and order custodians.
The situation in Newton makes for a complete metamorphosis when the DGP of the area turns up to the site with a foreign journalist. Mirroring a stark social reality, the polling booth encounters an instant changeover. Smitten by the foreigner (like every other desi), the DGP talks from nine to nineteen – from her Whatsapp display picture to the Broadway play he had seen. It is as if the polling booth episode in itself was a play for the group of policemen. The media covers the “event”, the lunch gets done – only to leave the baffled Newton to take some drastic steps afterwards.
In his second feature film, Amit Masurkar makes sure to add subtexts and nuances aplenty. These aren’t hard to notice and, in many ways, make Newton all the more enjoyable. Not a plot-driven film, Newton reinforces the lead character’s state-of-mind very well before leaping into the central core. Newton cleverly addresses various social situations – child marriage, dowry, reservations, the long wait for government jobs and the very understandable fears of the common man. In one scene, we see a seasoned election officer develop cold feet upon realizing that he is posted in a Naxal-hit area. He complains of having a heart problem and claims that his doctor has particularly advised not to travel by helicopters. Oh, boy!
The smaller characters in Newton are also worthy of many thoughts. Malko (Anjali Patil) belongs to the local tribe, is educated and works to improve the conditions of her people. A prototype straight out of Swades (minus the upper-caste privilege), the girl is not one with too many opinions. She is less of an activist and more of a worker assigned to election duties. She doesn’t socialize with the policemen over lunch either – who in the first place distrusted her thanks to her local origins. She laughs along with Newton’s witty assistant Loknath (Raghubir Yadav, in his elements) and also shares frequent fundas on the region with Newton. Her incandescent eyes do not reflect fear and are hopeful. The junior cops and their tête-à-têtes further add finer layers Newton’s confident narrative. Ditto for Sanjay Mishra in a brief cameo.
And finally, as we all know, this is an all-Rajkummar Rao show. This is very, very easily the finest male performance in a Hindi film this year. Also on a completely different tangent, this man single-handedly will increase businesses of all numerologists out there given the way his career transformed post the name change. Then again, isn’t he suffering the Bhumi Pednekar Syndrome already? While she is constantly typecast as the classic small-town girl with marriage issues, Rao is very frequently seen as the timid, soft-spoken guy with volumes of untapped courage within. Yes, it is a peculiar case and we, the audience, get no bloody rights to complain!
With his handheld camera movements and refreshing still frames (remember one that focuses on Rao’s expressions as people around him speak), Masurkar gets his craft spot on. Painting a similar picture to Isaac Newton’s one-man battle against the Church of England, the title character’s name and viewpoints come out vindicated through the film’s meticulously penned screenplay. Helped further by stupendous production design and background score, Newton is pure manna from heaven for a drought-hit year for the Hindi film industry.
P.S.: I am yet to get over the twinkle in Rao’s eyes as he proudly flaunts the ‘Certificate of Excellence” for being punctual in a government office.