Quite silly to review such an acclaimed and already loved film, I know. People are sulking that it didn’t make the cut to the Oscars after all. I just couldn’t resist.
Newton has no qualms about presenting its subject. It dives directly into topic– the premise of elections and Naxals, and where the main character is in relation to them. The community is holding elections, and the Naxals are terrorizing the system. Or we’re made to believe. Newton, a government clerk, is a reserve volunteer for the election committee, and may be overseeing the voting booths with other volunteers on election day.
It’s quite difficult to know where to start praising Rajkummar Rao for his acting abilities. He, truly knows how to get into the skin of the character. The very first thing I realized as I watched Rajkummar Rao as Newton was how often he blinked. Perhaps, you’d consider this irrelevant or a minute detail. But it isn’t. The frequency in which he blinked, his glances and demeanor created the Newton character for me: a naive, good-willed, yet driven, simpleton. Isn’t it amazing that an actor can take on a character, using such small, minuscule details. There must be some underlying scientific truth behind this, in the way our brain interprets persons, as a total sum of their gestures, behaviors, words. Our Newton, who has named himself so gloriously, suffers from common man’s ailments, of familial pressures. He doesn’t value money or status like others. In his own words, he wants to make a difference.
I think I enjoyed Sanjay Mishra’s character the most. His role as an advisor, his honest and direct responses to Newton. I loved how he told Newton of his arrogance about being honest. I found it interesting how we even find ways to feel in-admirably about our admirable qualities. How the honest boasts of his honesty, the good of his goodness. And as Sanjay Mishra says, we are not doing the world a favor by being this way, it’s expected of us. The coincidental rarity of these qualities in our immediate world, do not make them praiseworthy.
When a volunteer backs off from a booth in a community close to Naxal area, Newton takes his place. A community that was under the control of Maoists / Naxals just six months ago, and rigged with man mines. They wake up at 4 a.m. to set up the voting booth. When the police officer warns about the security situation and the pointlessness of their efforts, Newton refuses to accept and insists on carrying out his duty. And off they go for votes, like an army going into war! With bullet-proof vests and helmets. Proceeding through the jungle, on-guard, pausing and checking for danger along the way. With frequent bathroom breaks, taking dumps on mine-scanned spots!
A very interesting perspective shown through this movie is also the different perspectives of civilian and military/police. Every government has a unit on civil-military (CivMil) relations, and that’s because the perspective of each is so different, that they have a hard time agreeing on much. The dynamic between Atma Singh and Newton exemplified that well I think.
Newton tells them not to force anyone to come, but the police rile up old villagers like criminals, for voting. Taking their food, frightening and traumatizing them meanwhile. But these people have never voted before, they don’t even know what voting is. Newton has to explain to them its importance, and why they should vote. How can they vote when they don’t know any of the candidates and what they have to offer? The candidates have never come to these lands, to understand them, to ask for their votes, to make promises to them. The people feel torn between the government authorities and the Maoists who both claim rights over them. Furthermore, these villages, communities have never assimilated into the national governance structure. They continue to be governed through their traditional tribal structures. When Atma Singh and Newton get into a heated argument, the elderly village head steps forward to fulfill his duty and resolve the dispute between them. I thought this scene is possibly the best and most insightful scene of the entire movie, highlighting the polarization and isolation of communities that national governments are unable to reach, unable to serve, and who often get caught amidst violent extremist movements, who seek to take advantage of this polarization for their personal gain.
To the world outside, the West, who is always keen on the implementation of democracy, and its foremost indicator, elections, without really understanding the local dynamics and implications of its case studies, THIS election is a triumph. An example they will show the world, of how democracy is applicable EVERYWHERE and all you need to do in the path of progress, freedom and representation, is hold elections. Who cares if it makes any difference in the lives of the voters? In conflict situations, as soon as the violence reduces to a bearable minimum, the freedom fighters of the world, with their Western ideas of liberation, will fly in, and hold elections, to tell the world that, look, all is well again. ALL problems are solved. There was EVEN an election. That’s what they did in the Balkans after the war, the genocide, the destruction. And now, people speak of how the conflict dynamics, the underlying problems and frictions that caused hatred and death in that region in the first place, remain unresolved as ever. But wasn’t elections and a democratically elected government, the solution to everything?
Ah the funding. Now you get to the real point! The funding is NEVER enough. There is always a need for MORE. All that stands between people and freedom is MONEY. If there was more money, they could progress further and faster, into being liberated, into becoming the obedient patriotic servants of the national government/foreign government, that every democratic citizen ought to be.
And yet, despite all this, a man who believes in the idea of social justice, representation and voting so much, and who refuses to give up on his principles and sense of duty to the extent that he LITERALLY runs to keep a voting booth open… is just… brilliant!
I can see, how certain critics and viewers may be unimpressed with the cinematography– the very linear, direct storytelling, the conventional camera shots, the minimum use of sounds and music. But that to me, is a plus, something that allows me to focus on the subject, and the little delightful nuances of the great actors before me. This is one of the best films I have seen in 2017.