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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (29) - NEWTON (Amit Masurkar, India). Reviewed by Barrie Pattison

Newton proved to be an endearing, if unpolished, Indian drama from Hindi screen writer Amit Masurkar, whose only other major project as director was the 2014 comedy Sulemani Keeda, about Hindi screen writers.

The new film is something different to the Bollywood movies that occasionally surface here. To start with, it has a different look. The ‘scope image is soft and the colour less brilliant suggesting a cut price offering but the obvious budget limitations (small cast, a few real locations) don’t inhibit the story-telling in a film which relies on the strength of its subject and the appeal of its leads.

Rajkummar Rao is young and idealistic or is it egotistical when we see him refuse the arranged marriage with a girl who is uneducated and under age. As a reserve poll organiser, he is briefed on the scale and importance of the upcoming national election and he queries the procedures for dealing with the murderous Maoist insurgents bent on disturbing the vote. Sure enough, when the regular poling officer is told he hasn’t been given a metropolitan spot, he begs off (heart condition) and the unbending Rao is the one sent into the remote jungle where the Marxists Nayals are rampant. We’ve already seen a candidate gunned down fresh from promising every child a laptop and a cell phone.

Rao heads a less than stellar team arriving at an outpost commanded by officer Pankaj Tripathi who urges them to just fill in the paper work and forget about the idea. He has to be threatened with a written complaint to make him head up the security team taking the pollsters to their designated station, which proves to be a ruin in a burned out village - one the army has pacified. Promising new star Anjali Patil joins them and goes about the task wearing her bright Sari while Rao’s lot have been got up in camouflage flack jackets and steel helmets.

Despite obstacles that include the fact that the handful of locals they have come to record have no idea what the election - or any election - is about, Rao pursues his task, working up to a confrontation with the military guides. A weak coda damages conviction.

The film weaves between significance, comedy and tension with the odd flourish like a montage of shots of the real candidates who are represented only by symbols on the voting chart. It’s not all that compelling but it does raise a serious issue in a manner we haven’t seen before and has novelty value to paste over its shortcomings.


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