Last year, one of the best films at 47th International Film Festival of India’s Indian Panorama section which shook me was a Malayalam film “Kaadu Pookunna Neram” which took place deep into tribal territory and Maoism. This is a subject that is rarely handled in Bollywood and as far as I remember Prakash Jha’s Chakravuyh (2012) dealt smartly in a stereotypical way along with the critically acclaimed and realist approaches of- Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (2015) and Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat (2016). Here, Amit Masurkar’s second directorial film deals the plight of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, the Adivasis who have always been suppressed in Bollywood. The films were either revolving around upper caste or middle class, only the art filmmakers dealt with them.
Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao) is the new Presiding Election Officer whose Election booth is situated amidst the Naxal-area with only 76 voters in the state of Chhattisgarh. He is an innocent, more for a naïve person- an ideal citizen or a worker. His officer states his problem as, “your problem is your pride in your honesty” and what follows is a story of Newton honestly (we find it adamantly) trying to set up Election Booth with his 3 colleagues and getting voters amidst the negative approach of the senior Policeman Atma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi). This is an ideal story and an unreal character like Newton which looks great on paper or to teach some a verbal lesson, but in this audio-visual medium the character takes over the idealism rationally.
In a particular sequence, the Naxals have supposedly announced that they will boycott villagers if they vote. Newton is anxiously waiting for the villagers to turn up while Atma Singh has no hope and plans to return as soon as possible. When the higher Police officer conveys that an international reporter will be visiting the area. The Police force and drag the villagers to the Election Booth. West works immediately, isn’t it? In world’s biggest democracy, deep down where election booths are even set for one person, but the system is so malfunctioned that such people are devoid of any knowledge (illiteracy rate is high)- misery of the democracy or misery of people? Does it take one Newton or people like us to change the world?
On the journey with Newton are characters like a corrupt cynic, a local woman doing her job and an old man in front of harsh reality; these are mixture of the souls of the country. Conscientiousness! “Just do your work one step at a time, one day at a time and in time the country will take care of itself” is a dialogue which haunts throughout which is spoken by a character at the beginning. Writer-Director Amit Masurkar and his co-writer Mayank Tewari doesn’t intend to preach anything but explore the story of an ideal situation through an ideal character of an ideally rooted group of people. The light tone and the black comedy are superior-ly infused while the situations are slowly unnerving themselves.
Supported by technical aspects like Cinematography by Swapnil Sonawane, Editing by Shweta Mathew and Background Score by Naren Chandavarkar & Benedict Taylor are inextricable part of the brilliant film- and this is so far this year’s best film. Special mention for the casting directors who have cast the inhabitants of the area so aptly that we are aware of the fact- consciousness is flowing in the deep forest as well as in-depth film-making.Let’s leave Rajkummar Rao aside for this film because every film he does he excels to a different level, take a bow! The scene-stealer is undoubtedly Pankaj Tripathi, his minute nuances of acting and dealing with every scene creatively smart is enthralling. We can call this year as a “Triumph of Tripathi”, in every film he excelled and finally came into the limelight. Anjali Patil as the local is fiercely incredible.
I did have an experience of dwelling in the same jungle, where we were constantly sensing the danger of justice (irony). When the people in the democracy demand few rights and justice, do we have to label them as communists or a threat? Well, a character describes the Maoists as Pakistani just because they are the enemies. Intolerance? In the deep jungles of the Chhattisgarh, where the local (Adivasis) people are torn between the injustice of Naxalites and Policemen- we are often taken aback in this black comedy. It’s a NEW take with TONS of apples falling on our head while we are gravitating ourselves in the Multiplex whether to eat Salted or Cheese Popcorn while these people eat Red Ant chutney.And this film is India’s official entry at the Oscars! Incredible.
Release: 22 September, 2017
Director: Amit Masurkar
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