When one has to address contentious issues in which the state, the armed forces, and other major players like business conglomerates are involved, what does one focus on? Should the creative work be a defence of the state’s stand, because securing the integrity and safety of the nation is more essential than a few demands? Should the output parade the military’s achievements and compare them with the achievements of the past? Should business conglomerates be entirely dismissed, or at least disguised, because insidious third party interests are too harmful to be portrayed? In a conflict zone, where a large section of the resisting citizenry (yes, many militants are also citizens) engages in violence against the state to make its demands heard, the situation becomes even more complex. Despite being labelled as terrorists by the state, many non-violent community members continue to sympathise with their cause. It is not an ideology of violence against, but an ideology of violence for their aims. Many of them have emerged from conditions of extreme exploitation, and direct their struggle against structural violence. But at the same time, their activity leads to the loss of hundreds and even thousands of innocent lives. What happens to the people of the same region/community/religion, who are indicted by virtue of their identity? We have always condemned Islamophobic attacks in the USA, Australia, and European countries because many of the victims are murdered in cold blood because they look South Asian. The attackers are unable to distinguish, and unable to accept difference. But, what do we do about similar problems closer home?
Directed by Amit Masurkar, the Hindi film Newton treads a fine line between documentary and fictional representation. It is not informative per se because the focus of the film is to capture an incident without making any judgements. Astonishingly objective, it takes on an onerous task in the form of choosing to represent the conduct of elections in a Maoist controlled region. By using the realist mode to depict this incident, it takes a great risk in terms of sustaining audience attention. Moviegoers often expect traditional Bollywood masala laden films which package social messages with song and dance, slapstick comedy, and sentimentalism. It is believed that films should show a world of escape to satisfy with entertainment value so that our aspirations are transported from mundane lives to the silver screen where anything can happen- lost brothers can meet, love stories can end in marriage despite familial opposition, success can be achieved at all odds, and happy endings can be easily granted. Newton does not succumb to this system of wish fulfilment. It imbues elements of thrill, black humour and satire, action and adventure, and quick wit into an unremarkable episode. Beginning with a Maoist attack on a politician, it briefly dips into the character of Newton or Nutan Kumar, an idealistic clerk working in a government office. Brilliantly etched by Rajkummar Rao, Netwon’s personality is painted by his physical tic, his arguments with his parents, and his courageous questioning of reluctant military forces stationed at the site of conflict. It becomes difficult to detach the character from the actor.
The movie treats the issue with astonishing complexity and sensitivity- nothing is left out or shied away from. The complicity of the armed forces in exploiting poor adivasi villagers is portrayed through beautiful and painful imagery- the scene juxtaposes a tribal woman running after a clucking hen with army men pulling people out of their homes and threatening them to vote. After the slapping, dragging, beating and abusing invokes sufficient chills, the scene stops at the woman catching the hen and killing it. The slow pace at which a feather of the murdered hen flies into the viewers’ faces concludes the ordeal- the adivasi people, who have no idea of the Indian state’s system of elections, are told to treat the EVM as a toy meant to be played with only because a foreign media-person is interested in covering the event and the higher-ups want it to be a perfect photo opportunity. Newton tries to give them a crash course in their civic rights and protests against the farce of mere figures but no choice, but he is manhandled and shut down. Once the elections are over, the same chicken is served as a delicacy to the army men on a platter.
The movie does not fall into the trap of stridently constructing the army men as villains. It shows how their duty clashes with Newton’s because they too are exploited in different ways. Their jawans die in huge numbers because the state refuses to give them up-to-date weapons. What they lack in military technology and poor income upon retirement, they make up in brute force. Their bosses desire results, whatever the means may be. The movie ends with the forest land being cleared to give a business company a mining contract. The bulldozers prove how despite all these types of oppressions, the powerless adivasi are the primary victims.
Newton’s sense of responsibility makes his body take a severe beating when he threatens the army men by snatching their rifle so that the remaining people can vote. But he, and his honesty, will live on. It is only when honesty endures in every person, can change begin to take a concrete shape.
– Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: indiatoday.intoday.in