Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi are two of our best actors, on top of their game in Newton. As polling officer Newton and CRPF commandant Atma Singh, they also represent the two ends of one of the many divides that have polarised contemporary India. It’s a face off between idealism and cynicism, faith and conviction as against scepticism and misgivings, unbending uprightness and involvement versus dissipation and apathy.
Every five years in India comes a day when the populace votes in a new polity, but the process is almost never straight-forward or simple: Newton could also, just as easily, have been called A Day In The Life Of The World’s Largest, Most Complex Democracy. Or, The Great Indian Electoral Circus. The film takes us down the tangled jungles of Chattisgarh, over-run by Naxals and security details and other inimical forces, intersected on that fine day by an upright, uptight election officer Newton (Rao), and his companions– school-teacher Malko (Patil) and seasoned polling veteran Loknath (Yadav), who understands just how important a deck of playing cards is to the process.
Rajkummar Rao is enjoying a purple patch. After Bareilly Ki Barfi, here he is again stitching up a big performance full of small things: blinking, thinking, doing. He is at his most interesting when he is being quiet: he makes us watch. Pankaj Tripathi, as the head of the security detail, cynical yet doing the best he can, is lovely too. For once the talented Patil has been used well, and as for Raghubir Yadav, he gives us, after Peepli Live, another stand-out act, a lesson in How To Immerse Yourself Effortlessly In Your Role.
Newton sweeps nothing under the carpet, but it does not revel in muck-raking either. Its jibes at India’s electoral system, bureaucracy and law and order machinery are always cloaked in gentility but are never less than trenchant and to the point. It is highly entertaining and gloriously illuminating: a rare feat that anybody that loves intelligent cinema must vote for with his/her feet.