Newton is a glimpse into a world rarely seen on the big screen – Amit Masurkar
Writer – Director Amit Masurkar’s upcoming directorial Newton takes us in the Maoist areas of Chhatisgarh.The director, who is known to intelligently infuse humor in his storytelling style, narrates the story of an an honest clerk (Rajkummar Rao) who wants to conduct a free and fair election against all odds in the jungles.
The black comedy has traveled across the world and was premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the International Federation of Art Cinemas award. This was followed closely by the Jury Prize for Best Film at the 41st Hong Kong Film Festival, where it was screened in the “Young Cinema” competitive category.
In a chat with Pandolin, Amit talks about the research that went into retaining the authenticity of the story, the casting process and gives Newton a global appeal.
What according to you is the purpose of films in a society; do you believe in cinema that gives a social message?
We don’t know the purpose of life, so this question comes after the big one is answered!
Newton, a film based on an Indian context was showcased and applauded at Berlin International Film Festival, what gives it the global appeal?
We were happy to show the film in Berlin. The audience connected with it as it is a human story dealing with concepts like power, identity and human rights that we’re all familiar with. Even the West is grappling with similar problems so it was easy for them to identify with Newton.
Our audience may be smaller than say, an audience for a Salman Khan film, but it’s there
What intrigued you about the story of Newton and on what grounds will it connect with the Indian audience?
What interested me was the set up – a remote polling booth in a Maoist dominated jungle of Chhattisgarh and the character of Newton – a duty bound clerk whose job is to conduct free and fair elections here.
For the audience, this is a glimpse into a world rarely seen on the big screen. The story is a black comedy and has an unexpected twist.
How difficult was it to make the film look close to the real deal? What kind of research went behind it?
The entire team had work hard on the research. We met academicians, paramilitary officials, civil servants, journalists, election workers, surrendered Maoists, locals and spent time in that area to get the flavour right. Mayank Tewari (co-writer) has been a journalist and has very well defined views on this matter. He has a great knack for coming up with insightful yet funny lines.
Swapnil Sonawane, the cinematographer, chose to shoot the film in natural light so as to make it look real. Great care had to be taken to shoot scenes at the right time. A fair amount of research went there as well – in choosing the right camera and lenses.
What interested me was the set up – a remote polling booth in a Maoist dominated jungle of Chhattisgarh and the character of Newton
Was it a guerilla shoot or did it require extra planning given the scenario?
We had a big unit so everything had to be planned in advance. The pre production lasted for six months. We had paramilitary trainers who would assemble the actors playing the police force at the crack of dawn for a drill. The assistants, led by the soft-spoken Pankaj Dayani, were at the top of their game and worked hard on the research. Angelica Monica Bhowmick (Production Designer) made the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) from scratch. We used photographs shot by Javed Iqbal in Dantewada to model the village and the school that was built. I must mention the Superman Line Producer, Ganesh Shetty and EP, Raghav Gupta who managed to pull it off under the most trying circumstances.
How did you go about the process of casting for the film? What prep did the cast have to go through for their respective roles?
Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil, Raghubir Yadav, Sanjay Mishra, Danish Husain are all seasoned actors. Their characters were pretty well defined in the script. We discussed their parts and the story. Whatever preparation they did was their own. Casting directors Romil Modi and Tejas Thakker cast local actors for other roles. For casting Gondi actors, they traveled deep into the jungle and held auditions in various hamlets.
There was no holding back as far as storytelling was concerned
How difficult is it making a political film in India, when you’re highlighting the plight of a common man stuck in the governance, what kind of liberties can you take?
We took all the liberties we could. There was no holding back as far as storytelling was concerned. The only thing we avoided was cuss words because we didn’t want an A-certificate.
Humour is part of my storytelling style and is not determined by any commercial factors
What was the Censor board’s take on your film?
We got a U/A certificate, with no cuts.
Drishyam Films has been backing a lot of unconventional movies and shorts. What was Manish’s reaction when you first told him about Newton? How did the collaboration help in strengthening the film and making it accessible?
Manish is an extremely intuitive person and immediately green-lit the film after a brief narration. He completely backed the project even when it went over budget. He also gives filmmakers complete freedom to tell the story the way they want to.
With Aanand L. Rai and Eros coming on board to present and distribute Newton, exhibitors have shown more interest in the film.
For casting Gondi actors, we traveled deep into the jungle and held auditions in various hamlets
Newton is a satirical black comedy, do you feel conveying a serious issue with humour makes it easier for the audience to digest? However, does it make the treatment tough?
I think the audience is mature enough to digest all kinds of films. Our audience may be smaller than say, an audience for a Salman Khan film, but it’s there. Humour is part of my storytelling style and is not determined by any commercial factors.
Even the West is grappling with similar problems so it was easy for them to identify with Newton
As a filmmaker, do you think this is the best time to make films as there are multiple platforms and the audience too has become more accepting of unconventional content?
Absolutely. The Internet has exposed the Indian audience to the best in international television and cinema. So they’re more open to unconventional ideas. Even the box office collection of big Hollywood films is growing. In such a situation, it is even more challenging for Indian filmmakers to make films that appeal to the young Indian audience.