Director Amit V Masurkar’s film, Newton will have its world premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. It is among the 43 films to be shown in the main programme of Berlinale Forum.
Set in central India, Newton is a story of rookie clerk on election duty in a conflict-ridden jungle of Chhattisgarh, who tries his best to conduct free and fair voting despite the apathy of security forces and the looming fear of an attack by Maoist rebels. The sharp political black comedy starring Rajkummar Rao is Masurkar’s second feature film after the 2014 sleeper hit, Sulemani Keeda. We had spoken to the director just a few weeks before he started shooting the film. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the film about?
It is about a boy called Newton who is obsessed with finding order in chaos. He is an election official whose aim is to conduct a free and fair election in a Naxalite area.
Why such an unusual name?
One day on facebook, I got a random ‘friend request’ from a person called Newton. I was quite amused and thought it would be a very interesting name for a character. This was around the same time that Sulemani Keeda was released and I had this script with me and I was looking for a name for its protagonist. I decided to use the name Newton and slowly I started realising the connections between the scientist and my character. He was also rooted to reality and obsessed with his work … just like my character. Also, Newton’s laws of gravity works for films as well! First act is mostly inertia, the second is momentum and the third is equal and opposite reaction.
Why did you pick this as your second film?
I wrote the script while I was editing Sulemani Keeda. I had around five scripts ready with me at that time, but this was the one I wanted to develop into a film. I came across the concept while reading the preamble to the Constitution. I found it to be a fascinating read. I failed to understand why and how something written with such noble intentions has deteriorated into these present day interpretations. As I was dwelling on this, I started jotting down a few free association words and came up with election, officials, corruption etc. Suddenly, I realised that nobody has ever made a film on the great Indian election circus. Indian elections are the largest in the world with more than 814 million voters, a million polling booths and costing around Rs 5 billion. If you go to the the elections section of the Guinness world records book you will find that most of the records there belongs to India. I found the whole idea very beautiful. The government is so loving and caring during election time! I had to make a film on this.
Did the success of Sulemani Keeda help you get funds for Newton?
I don’t think if I hadn’t had the success of Sulemani Keeda to back up my credentials, and pitched Newton as my first film, it would have got made. The producers backing indie films get so many scripts each day that it is difficult to break the clutter and get noticed. The success of my first film helped me get their initial attention. Keeda was made in a very low-budget (Rs 8.5 Lakhs) and what you saw on screen was ‘paisa vasool’ in a way. That gave people the confidence to put money in my next. I don’t think many people would have trusted a first-time director with a medium budget film.
Also, Sulemani Keeda was distributed through PVR Director’s Rare, and Shiladitya Bora of Drishyam was then helming that section of PVR. We developed a great working relation. During that time I had mentioned this new script to him, but it was nothing more than that. After Sulemani Keeda was released, all the producers who called me wanted me to make an urban, fun, buddy film, similar to Keeda, but with bigger stars. For me, Newton was a fun film too, but they failed to see any prospect in a project that deals with election and has a rural backdrop. They associated me with something else. When I read the script to Shiladitya, he really liked it and arranged a meeting with Manish Mundra. I pitched it to him and after four days I got a call from Shiladitya saying that Manish is producing the film. Upon hearing that, I just packed my bags and went to Chattisgarh to finish the script and we started shooting by end of July.
Are you concerned that the audience might be expecting something similar to Sulemani Keeda?
This film is entirely different from my first. It was a mumblecore bromcom where these guys where living out of their PG digs and attempting to get some work in Bollywood. So, there is no common ground to draw a comparison. Also, Sulemani Keeda was based in Mumbai and I was familiar to these characters and their travails. But here, the world Newton inhabits is alien to me. I have never stayed in a place that was even remotely similar to Chhattisgarh, so I had to do a lot of research and background work on this one. For me it is completely fresh film. Also, as far as I know there aren’t any films ever made on elections in India. So, it is a very different subject in general.
This is your second film. What kind of pressure are you feeling?
Theoretically it is very important that your second film does well because you are as good as your last film. Yes, if you have made four good films, people might overlook the failure of your fifth, but they might not be so lenient if it is your second film. But I am not thinking too much about that as there are bigger problems on the sets that are vying for my attention. The idea is to be honest and keep experimenting, but without making a deliberate attempt to be different. It is important to listen to your heart. I really wanted to make this film and would have gone ahead with it whether anybody would have produced it or not. Maybe it would have taken me much longer to finish it, but I would have done it. I didn’t have any backup plans. I don’t have any other idea in my mind for even my third film right now. It is just this one, and I want to get it done.
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