Amit Masurkar’s ”˜Newton’ is set to win over Australia, yet again

By Neeru Saluja

India has the world’s largest democracy. So when a film explores this theme laced with humour and humanity, it has to be a winner.

Directed by Amit Masurkar, the internationally acclaimed film ”˜Newton’ was India’s Oscar entry for 2017 and was awarded the National Film Award for the best feature film. Carrying the lucky streak, the film has now been nominated in the Best Asian Film category of Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA).

Rajkummar Rao plays the role of Newton Kumar, a rookie government clerk who is entrusted with conducting elections in a remote village in the jungles of central India. In an exclusive interview, Amit Masurkar talks to us about his journey with Newton and how his film has been a favourite with the youth in India and at international festivals.

Congratulations on ”˜Newton’ being nominated for the best Asian film for AACTA. This is a great achievement after your win at Asia Pacific Screen Awards last year in Brisbane. How do you feel about this double whammy in Australia?

Thank you! The entire cast and crew is stoked with the love we are receiving from Australia!

What inspired you about the subject matter for Newton?  

All over the world, politicians remember their voters only during election time. The gap between the way democracy functions and democratic principles is large. I always wanted to explore this gap in a film, and so I wanted to set a film in an election booth. While reading about elections, I got interested in the conflict in the jungles of Central India- between Maoist communist rebels and government forces. The local Gondi tribal population has little access to education, healthcare and human rights. Mining companies are taking over their ancestral lands. There is a lot of bloodshed which can easily be avoided, if the voices of the Gondi people are heard. And this struggle intensifies during election time, when the Maoists ban people from voting.

How did you prepare yourself for the film?  

There was a lot of research that my team and I had to do. We read up extensively on the regional politics, local culture and election procedures. We travelled in the Bastar region where the film is set, and interviewed academics, journalists, tribal rights activists, bureaucrats, language experts, surrendered Maoists, paramilitary officers and locals.

Though your film has been a favourite with international film festivals, does India have a large audience for such films?

Newton was a hit at the box office.  The younger audience in India is well exposed to the internet and thus to international shows, music and cinema. They expect fresh stories from Indian filmmakers. This year, all the films that did well in India were story driven.

As the film touches on the sensitive subject of political issues, did it face a backlash?  

All political parties, the Right and the Left, claim to be fighting for the rights of the indigenous Gondi people. So, there was no backlash. The film won the National Award for Best Hindi Film this year.

Did you expect the film to be the entry to Oscars?  

It was completely unexpected! But the Los Angeles experience was great!

What did you want to say to the audience through the naive Newton?  

Newton is a naive, headstrong clerk who believes in doing his duty, no matter what. I  wanted the audience to feel how Newton feels helpless with the current situation, yet hopeful of bringing about change.



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