Stars: ****
Cast
: Rajkumar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjai Mishra, Raghubir Yadav, Anjali Patil
Director: Amit Masurkar

Never a dull moment in this satirical take on the election process in the world’s largest democracy!

Newton is a young, upright election officer from Chattisgarh for whom the right way is the only way. The only time he went off the prescribed line was perhaps when he decided to change his name from Nutan Kumar to Newton – to avoid being laughed at.

Other than that, he is always on the ball when comes to doing the right thing – like the time he promptly walks off an arranged marriage set up when he finds out the girl in question is not a graduate and more importantly is just 16. Despite his father’s disappointment on losing out on some heavy-duty dowry!

So deeply ingrained is his quest for always doing right – that after an election briefing which he interjects with multiple ‘rightful’ questions, Newton is told by his commanding officer (Sanjai Mishra) that his problem is not that he wants to do right. His problem is that he is proud of the fact that he chooses to do right. And perhaps that explains the seemingly eccentric behavior of Newton.

The film’s real plot begins when Newton readily takes off to the Naxal infested “Dandakaranaya” as a first time presiding officer, as the person assigned the job chickens out. Joining him are two polling officers, one for whom the sole reason of being there is the helicopter ride and the free good food that comes along with the job (Mukesh Prajapati) and the other, Loknath(Raghubir Yadav) – who is also a writer and is on his last leg of election duty. And joining them on location is the local booth level officer Malko (Anjali Patil)

Most of the film plays out on the day of the elections and crackling interactions between Newton and Atma Singh, the army officer in charge of the security of the election officials sets the premise.

Both are at constant loggerheads as Atma Singh, having overseen many elections in strife infested areas of India is mainly concerned that no one gets hurt, whether or not the voting procedure actually takes place! On the other hand, taking his job in utmost seriousness, Newton wants the procedures to be followed precisely as per the rulebook. Right from the time that he insists on leaving for the voting location at the crack of dawn, security concerns notwithstanding, he wants nothing to go against the rules.

The irony being that Loknath, the most seasoned election officer among them carries ‘necessary’ items like playing cards and ample videos on his mobile phone to see him through the day. And that’s where the crux of this brilliantly put together satire lies. The entire day of elections in Dandakaranaya plays out like a picnic day in the middle of the jungle –with mangoes being plucked, story sessions, enquiries about surrounding property prices, some snoozing and a lunch of country chicken to round off a seemingly perfect day. There is even some voting thrown in to show to a foreign journalist tracking elections of the world’s largest democracy. Everyone is happy except Newton, who is bitter about the farce being put up and is determined have the voting procedures open till the 3 pm deadline. And Malko, who has resigned to the farce.

Pankaj Tripathi as Atma Singh – the army officer in-charge of the security of the election officials is superlative. One cant quite decide if he is the good guy or the bad guy as alll his actions – correct or not – seem to be directed towards wanting to get through the day without any mishaps. Raghubir Yadav and Anjali Patil add to the spark of the film!

There is never a dull moment in the movie, especially due to its dialogues and moments laced with humour and irony– even though it is dealing with a grim subject of how the voting process is made a mockery of and the plight of the tribals (a small vote bank of just 76 voters) in the area is almost ignored. They are but just stuck between the interests of the Naxals and the politicians and the fact the area is a rich minefield. No one really cares about their ancient traditions, language or way of life. In fact, a comment on the education system is made when Malko laments how none of the school textbooks are in the local language, Gond. And of course, the sorry state of the school where the voting takes place.

All this told through brilliant dialogues by Mayank Tewari, a tight screenplay, a milieu of beautiful forest scenery shot through dappled sunshine and small town claustrophobia coming through power cuts and dingy bus rides and above all Rajkumar Rao’s emphatic performance.

Newton is a black comedy really well done! Definitely don’t give this one a miss.

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