“We are like toys-someone presses our “ON” button or turns a key in our backsides, and we Santhals start beating rhythms on our tamak and tumdak, or blowing tunes on our tiriyo while someone snatches away our very dancing grounds. Tell me, am I wrong?”
– The Adivasi Will Not Dance, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.
At first sight, Newton will remind you of Forrest Gump.
It will seem like the story of an idealistic and compulsively disciplined man caught in the cobwebs of a system which vows to change you before you can dream to change it. But Newton is not just an irrefutable innocent character whom you will adore at first, empathize with later, sympathize just after and forget once the credits start rolling. He is an embodiment of ideologies and situations. His unbiased eyes are lenses that let us peep into the black holes in the fabric of society, which undress the facade of democracy as a universal right. Democracy is still a privilege for many communities, which they can neither understand nor afford. Empty stomachs and hands rotten from overwork do not care to choose between political leaders and ideologies – because, for them, every government is just the same. Another let-down, another false promise, and another eternal round of waiting till the outcomes trickle down to them.
The battleground in the film is Dandakaranya, Chattisgarh, where Naxalites continue their violent fight against a government they are disillusioned with, while the paramilitary shoots their demands down, one by one. Or rather, offers monetary compensation for giving them up. But whether money makes the insurgent surrender or merely the poor, is left dubiously unanswered. Nevertheless, it is made clear that when state forces are in charge of anything, it’s often just the numbers that matter. A man armed with a gun and a purpose always runs the risk of turning into a monster, which in this case describes both the parties involved. The anatomy of this endless feud between the militants and military is explained with the simple use of Laws of Motion: actions evoking equal but opposite reactions.
However, in this tug of war, the rope being pulled from both sides is tied around the very throats of the native tribes. The Adivasis are metaphorically compared to a chicken, which is chased, beheaded and then cooked into a delicious story. When Newton thinks his bullet of reason can cut these inconsistencies apart, his colleague offers him kind advice, “No big things are done in a day. This forest took years to grow.” But the inexplicably pitiful sight of a tribal man standing in the voting booth, staring cluelessly at a ballot he does not understand, lights up a resolve in Newton’s heart. A resolve more inextinguishable than a forest fire in the Sukma region. A community which has never even heard the names of the nominated candidates, does not know what to do with their vote. They ask out of habit, with intimidated eyes and shaky voices, “How much will we be paid for this?”
At the climax of the film, Newton is possessed by his obsession with commitment and honesty. He holds the paramilitary officers at gunpoint, literally and figuratively, so that he is allowed to smoothly perform his simple duty of letting people vote. This unprecedented momentary split personality disorder of our familiar noble lead reflects perfectly the image of every man who is overpowered by his pride in his integral principles. The officers who burnt villages and made these Santhals refugees on their own land. The Maoists who cannot distinguish their own from their enemies anymore. The elites who debate the positive and negative repercussions of democracy every day on news-channels without any knowledge about the ground reality. And us civilians, inefficient and corrupt, who are the silent participants and perpetrators of these crimes, but also the biggest complainers.
The film ends like a regular day ends in the forests of Chhattisgarh. With a strange silence that only the innocuous and rightful cicadas dare to spoil and the bittersweet smell of both uncertainty and hope. Uncertainty, because our lives are nothing but a prolonged phase of suspense where our moments of happiness are compromised by the fear of a devastating future. But hope, for this revolting fruit to fall, yielding to the gravity of circumstance – finally proving that the laws of nature are the same for every human being, irrespective of caste, status and community.