Is Rajkummar Rao starrer NEWTON – India’s official entry for Oscars 2018 directed by Amit Masurkar really inspired from SECRET BALLOT? Well we have the answer.
It’s strange to find that the movie which has swept the critics and is finding appreciations amongst the connoisseurs of art and cinema finds itself allegedly to be a ‘copy’. A report in NDTV claims that NEWTON has uncanny resemblances with the 2001 Iranian film SECRET BALLOT helmed by Babak Payami. Luckily, the move is available on line and since I was amongst the lead singers who praised NEWTON in its review, it became my duty and responsibility to set things right.
Here is my observation after watching SECRET BALLOT.
NEWTON does draw similarities with SECRET BALLOT in its theme of a honest polling officer trying to conduct voting in a remote area but the context of NEWTON and the dimensions it achieves during its process are entirely different. It may be an inspiration but definitely cannot be called as a copy. People should understand the difference between a copy and an inspiration. Bollywood’s two evergreen cults – Ramesh Sippy’s SHOLAY and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ANAND bear similarity with father of Asian Cinema Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI & IKIRU respectively. But that has not robbed SHOLAY & ANAND from the credibility it enjoys as a remarkable piece of cinema. Similarly, NEWTON even after sharing it ethos with SECRET BALLOT is different if we look from the Indian perspective.
First of all, democracy in Iran is puzzling, the country has Presidential elections and the government includes the chosen president and an unelected supreme leader. The supreme leader has more powers than the elected president. And we all know that India - the world’s largest democracy votes for the Prime Minister and things are different politically in both the nations.
The Iranian film by Babak Payami is a realistic, ethnographic & patriotic work that comments on the election process in the country and also the right age of women to vote. In a scene a local says, "She can marry at 12 but she cannot vote." The talked about similarity of the soldier in SECRET BALLOT with Pankaj Tripathi is defeated when one watches the film, the soldier is safeguarding the beach from smugglers and the region is not experiencing any turmoil /fear of insurgency like NEWTON. The Soldier is upset over a ‘city’ woman performing her duties as woman officer and he believes that officers should be man. There is no polling booth and the officer roams in jeep with the soldier asking people to cast their vote and very few people vote in the end. The locals are even aware of the candidates and refuse to vote for them. Later the soldier and the officer develop an undercurrent of affection.
Director Payami’s SECRET BALLOT is a complete art house material with use of long shots and yes it has sly humor at occasions but primarily it sends the message of isolation and comments on the status of women in Iran. The best part in the message is the messenger itself (a woman polling officer).
Whereas in my opinion NEWTON has a wider message to deliver, it takes the dark and humorous route to convey the message that the world’s largest democracy still in 2017 faces a tough challenge to conduct a free and fair polls in certain pockets. People are not even aware about their candidates and how system has failed in those areas.
Interestingly, SECRET BALLOT has won many accolades which include the FIPRESCI Prize at 2001 London Film Festival. NEWTON won the CICAE Award at Berlin and was also lauded at Tribeca fest. The festival juries are better qualified in this regard and a ‘copy’ cannot travel so long in the festival circuit.
Anyways, I thank the report due to which I came across a beautiful piece of cinema. SECRET BALLOT is a fine piece of art while NEWTON stands on its own for being a rare dark, stark and witty comment.