Amit Masurkar: it’s the right time to tell Newton’s story
The film, Newton, has been making noise ever since it started doing the rounds of international film festivals. The much-anticipated dark-comedy, about a rookie polling booth officer who is assigned duty in the naxal-controlled state of Chattisgarh, that releases today has impressed the global audience at all the international films it was screened at.
After the world premiere at the 67th Berlin Film Festival, where it won the International Federation of Art Cinemas (CICAE) award in the Forum segment, it went on to win the Jury Prize for Best Film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and has been screeened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan.
The man behind the film, director Amit Masurkar had already made an impact with his first film, Sulemani Keeda, an independent slacker comedy in 2014. With Newton, he brings a story that attempts to bridge the gap between being idealistic and practical. The nonconformist director says, "I was reading the Preamble and that's when I felt that there is a huge gap between the ideals set and practised. We've seen many films that are political but I wanted to show something simple that was just talking about the dance of democracy from a small polling booth, in a nondescript village in a jungle." It wasn't easy for Amit to find a producer for the film with such an offbeat subject. But Manish Mundra from Drishyam Films (who has produced films such as Masaan, Umrika and Dhanak) immediately came onboard. "Before him I had met many producers but they said it was very political and young people wouldn't find it interesting. They didn't sit through the narration or the discussion to understand that it's a dark comedy and has elements of a thriller. It's an adventure through the jungle," explains Amit.
With such a strong script and titular role, Manish could think of only Rajkummar Rao for the lead. "Rajkumar Rao is very sincere and that is one of the main qualities projected in the film. The moment I wrote the character, Manish suggested Raj's name," divulges Amit. While a lot has been already said about Rajkummar, what's interesting to know is the story behind the title. Though it's the name of the protagonist, Amit offers his reasoning. He says, "First of all it's a very quirky title and likewise the character is very quirky. Newton has a tunnel vision when it comes to doing any job and everybody around him is wondering what he is doing, this lends to the humour. The other reasons we discovered during writing were that we have structured this film around Newton's laws. Like the first one third of the film is about inertia, the next one-third is about momentum and in the end you have an equal and opposite reaction."
Another interesting aspect of the film is the casting of other actors. Though Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav and Anjali Patil were signed on without any second thoughts, it took a while for Amit and his team to find actors for the roles of paramilitary soliders, voters in Gondi and other townspeople."My casting director Romil Modi went auditioning from village to village. We found decent actors for the paramilitary soldiers role, but they didn't have the physique so we contacted security agencies and institutes that train students to join the army and cast students from there, the rest of the actors are real people from Chhattisgarh."
But the most challenging phase for Amit and his team was the actual shoot in the jungles where there was a constraint on using artificial light and sound. Also the fact that, they were all outsiders who were trying to film the people of this region and their issues, was something that Amit had to deal with precariously while shooting. "The toughest part was to make the film look like a one day story. As we were shooting in the jungle we couldn't use artificial light. We had to shoot at the right time to give a real feel. It had to be perfect, and even if we missed an hour, we had to push the entire shoot to the next day. To add to our woes, it started raining in the month of March! It was also a different experience for me, because we are talking about a subject that's quite sensitive. I was aware of my position, I was an outsider and I had a certain privilege as an educated male, so when I was shooting, looking through the camera, and making the actors act, I had to be sure of representing the story and not misrepresenting it," he offers.
Now that the film is complete, Amit is in a different phase of excitement, he hopes people will watch Newton. As a filmmaker who has set out to tell the tale of the unheard, he says,"Telling this story is very important because of three reasons, firstly, it is set in a state which we have never seen in films before and have only read about it in papers, the second reason is this film is about a purist (Newton) and how difficult it is for a purist to survive in this day and age, the third reason is, this is the story of democracy, of India."