Chalk & Cheese – Newton (Amit V Masurkar, 2017) and Aakhree Raasta (K. Bhagya Raj, 1986)
I had just arrived from a long break in Dehradun and the first thing I had to do was to watch Newton. I was afraid I might miss it, as it had already been released three weeks ago and it would go out of the theatres.
I was also fortunate to be invited by my friends Saumya (Star of the hit TV show ‘Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hain’) and Saurabh (Founder of 1018mb) to 1018mb’s screening of ‘Aakhree Raasta’ for a celebration of Superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s 75th Birthday week, on the same day, at the same theatre on the same screen and the two shows happened to be back to back! This maybe the only reason I’m drawing parallels between films that have absolutely no relationship with each other at all. However I did find some interesting points here.
2017 has been the year when we have truly seen the impact of evolution of the Hindi film audience. Up till now, i.e. Mid-October, almost all of the big ticket films with superstars of Hindi films have flopped miserably or fared average at the box office at best; and the Hindi films that have managed to do well* are so called off beat films, to name a few ‘Toilet- Ek Prem Katha’ (Shree Narayan Singh), ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’ (R. S. Prasanna), ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ (Alankrita Shrivastava), ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’ (Ashwini Iyer Tiwari) and finally the film in question Amit V Masurkar’s ‘Newton’. The best part is that all of these films have been appreciated by the critics and the audience alike. They have raised questions and provoked thoughts. I might be speaking out of turn but if the 1980s is considered to be the worst time of the Hindi Film Industry, the best time of Hindi Film Industry may have just begun.
‘Aakhree Raasta’ released in 1986. The film may have had a run of the mill story at the heart of it, where someone close to the hero is raped by powerful men and the protagonist takes revenge. The structure was common to Indian films of that time where the entire first half of the film is spent in setting up of the characters and plot and the real action begins in the second half. However there was something very interesting and new about the film, which is also why it may have worked then apart from quite a few other reasons. Throughout the film there was an ideological debate between the protagonist, who had decided to take law in his own hands and deliver his brand justice to the criminals and those who were against him and together they raised some questions in the mind of the viewer.
Newton / Nutan Kumar (Rajkummar Rao) is a young election officer who is honest to the point of being naive about it. He sticks to the rules and ensures that he follows them to the letter. David D’Costa (Amitabh Bachchan) in ‘Aakhree Raasta’ was as naive about his dedication to his political leader Chaturvedi (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) and later on his son James D’Costa / Vijay Shandilya (also played by Amitabh Bachchan) is also an honest police officer who follows the letter of the law to the point of being naive about it. We meet David for the first time, when he is disillusioned about life and is not willing to listen to platitudes from his well wishers. We meet Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathy) in Newton who is older than Rajkummar Rao and is disillusioned with the concept of democracy while maintaining ‘security’ in a place like Dandakaranya. Both the films move on the conflict between a disillusioned point of view and an idealistic point of view. That may be the only flimsy similarity between the two films.
The differences of the reception of the two films however point more towards the way filmmakers and audiences have evolved rather than the films themselves. The director of ‘Akhree Raasta’ K. Bhagya Raj, is a veteran actor, writer and director, credited 85 times in IMDb. ‘Akhree Raasta’ was his first Hindi film as a director and it was a super hit at that time.1980s was a time when the ‘gentry’ had stopped going to the theatres to watch films. Films were made hit by the mass audience; it was difficult to make films that appealed to the ‘classes’ and that worked on the box office as well. I myself had forgotten the cringe-worthy parts and remembered the ingenious way David took revenge from the three villains, which is why I was excited to watch it again. However looking back I realize that the scenes I find cringe-worthy and melodramatic are the ones that must’ve appealed to the masses and made it the huge hit it was.
It was PVR Pictures that started making Multiplexes and it was supported by the government which gave tax breaks to new Multiplexes for a certain number of years. It has finally come to a point where multiplex screens comprise almost a third of the total number of screens playing Hindi films. The Indian film industry had demarcated the two different forms of cinema; we had Commercial films or as they were colloquially called Masala movies and there were art films or parallel films. Since the multiplexes have become more relevant, the demarcation has also taken another form, in the terms of a ‘multiplex’ film or a film aimed at single screens. As I mentioned earlier, the change in audience reaction to films that are aimed to entertain a mass audience is quite clearly visible this year. Indian filmmakers now have to work harder at getting their audience to watch their films. The reason for this, I feel is that the effort put by some filmmakers has been seen and appreciated by the masses and they have started demanding better work. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic.
Coming back to ‘Newton’, this happens to be Amit V Masurkar’s second feature length film. The first film ‘Sulemani Keeda’ was a black comedy / satire based on the Hindi film Industry. The film was made on a shoe-string budget with good actors and recovered its money in the first weekend itself, when it released. ‘Newton’ is commercially a hit and has reached a box office of 28.35 crores (Wikipedia – 14th Oct ’17) which is amazing considering if the same film had been released as little as a decade ago, there is a large possibility that it would still have been considered a good film but would have hardly managed to recover its production cost. It is truly heart warming to see good cinema being appreciated and watched by a large enough number of audience that can sustain the cost of the film and encourage producers like Manish Mundra, and distributors like Eros International to back films like these.