Our Not Just Bollywood season showcases Indian independent cinema rarely screened on British screens. Aquinas College film student Scott Nolan reviews our second feature in the season, Newton…
“Before (Isaac) Newton, people thought there were different laws, for heaven and earth…kings and commoners alike…he proved it all wrong.” The same can be said for Newton Kumar, who, pitted against guerrilla forces and even his own military, brings an isolated population their birthright – armed with nothing but a voting machine.
Having never watched a Hindi film before, I went into Newton fresh faced, and left with a greater appreciation for the Hindi film industry. Newton is never anything other than powerful; Rajkummar Rao’s performance as an unsuspecting moral champion quickly identifies Newton Kumar as a man impervious to the social pressures of Indian society, whether that be the nagging expectations of his family to be with a minor in an arranged marriage, or the ignorant dismissals of the military who’d rather keep the low caste population out of current affairs. Kumar defies both, and serves as an electoral unifier between his world and that which resides in the jungle.
Initially, Kumar is only a reserve for election duty, but volunteers to fill in after a medical problem prevents another staff member from flying in a helicopter out to the warring region of Chhattisgarh to serve the 76 lonely voters. The escalating tension standing between the villagers and their right is vote is then complicated by military leader Singh, who coerces and patronises the residents into voting for candidates who are essentially alien to them; convoluting Kumar’s task into comedic absurdity as he attempts to conduct the election by the book in bizarre circumstances – calling for order and regulation from people who have never seen a machine before whilst in constant threat of ambush from Maoist forces.
A human film at heart, Newton provides a face and a voice to those often ignored by the modern world, allowing Kumar to act as a cultural bridge upon which democracy can march across, in order to contact those on the other side of the social ravine. Indeed, much of the ‘76’ are comprised of real locals, adding more authenticity to an already genuine film, a film which critiques inequality in a poetic but amusing way that will have you rooting for Kumar’s success throughout its entirety. As the gravity of the situation evolves, the village begins to resemble a microcosm of modern society as a whole more and more. Newton understands such gravity, making it an unmissable film in the Not Just Bollywood season here at HOME.