Newton Kumar is a stickler for principle… whether it’s about the pronunciation of his name, his determination to marry a woman with whom he has something in common, or his position as a government worker. When he is given the job of volunteer election worker and sent to the middle of a jungle in Central India, those principles are put to the test.
The 76 villagers whose votes he is tasked with collecting are nowhere to be found. His police escorts appear to want to help, but he (and we) are never quite sure if they really do. And the threat of attack from Maoist rebels is an ever-present worry. But Newton single-mindedly goes about his duty and sets up shop in an abandoned building with three assistants and the tools of his trade – ink, strip seal, a stamp, chalk, wax and carbon. When the villagers finally do arrive, they neither read nor write his native language; and they’ve never heard of the people on the ballot nor their causes.
It sounds like a set up for a situation comedy; and it is sweet, funny, and charming. But the film also packs a punch. There are multiple narratives, layers of meaning, and an overarching message about “free and fair” elections … and not just in India, the world’s largest democracy.
For director Amit Masurkar, the story also speaks to universal truths and our need to understand different points of view. “When I watched Platoon, I didn’t know the details of the Vietnam War. I enjoyed The Last Emperor without knowing anything about the history of China. The thing about movies is that they open a new world for us to discover.” While this film is about “small town democratic complexities” in India, he’s hoping people will see similar patterns in American democracy and common human sentiments.
Those sentiments are brought to life by a superb group of actors. The film was written with Rajkummar Rao in mind, whom Masurkar described as being as sincere as Newton when it comes to work ethic. Raghuvir Yadav as Loknath, the soon to be retired civil service worker, provides both comedy and conscience. And military representative Atma Singh, as played by Pankaj Tripathi, manages to tread that fine line between good guy and bad guy. But it is Anjali Patil as the local liaison, Malko, who almost steals the show with her natural beauty and vibrant red clothing; in India, a sign of purity and power. She is the one who tries to give Newton a feel for the language and culture of the local people. Those people, by the way, are played by non-actors, all of whom are Gondi, an indigenous group. They add an authentic flavor to the film.
As for the name, Newton, the director got the idea from a random Facebook request from someone named Newton, when he was writing the film. He thought it was an interesting name for the character since Newton, like his namesake, is obsessed with finding order in chaos.
Newton makes it North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. For more information go to the website.
Photo courtesy of Drishyam Films