The Newton director defends India's official entry to the Oscars, which is now said to be similar to the Iranian film Secret Ballot.
Amit Masurkar was told of Secret Ballot while making Newton but never watched it
Mumbai - 24 Sep 2017 15:15 IST
In a span of 24 hours, the team of Newton must have experienced a gamut of emotions. From enjoying the euphoria of being selected as India's official entry to Oscar, the team must now be frustrated at reports of their film being inspired by the Iranian Secret Ballot (2001).
Directed by Babak Payami, Secret Ballot is set on a remote island with a two-man army post. On voting day, an election agent is to arrive. Much to the surprise of the soldiers, it is a woman who arrives with a ballot box. She asks one soldier to take her around the island so that she can look for people and get them to vote.
Now, in Amit Masurkar’s Newton, Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao) is assigned by the election commission to conduct free and fair elections in a tribal area of Chhattisgarh that is affected by insurgency.
We are yet to see the Iranian film, but the two films do have the common theme of a polling officer trying to conduct an election in a remote area. The soldier in the Iranian film doesn’t like being ordered around by a woman, which suggests that Secret Ballot takes up the issue of gender bias too.
In Newton, the film very subtly addresses the plight of the tribals in the Naxal-affected land. There is conflict between Newton and Indian soldiers, led by Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi).
When contacted director Masurkar replied via a text message: "My inspiration to write Newton was born out of the fact that India is the world's largest democracy with a large population which is disfranchized, but is remembered only on the day of the election. We set up the film in an area where the idea of democracy is strongly contested, where holding an election itself is a statement, where voters are treated as numbers, and where their basic rights not respected."
Masurlar admitted that while he was made aware of Secret Ballot but said he hasn't watched the film as yet.
"It was after months of hard work — which includes casting, location scouting, and pre-production, that someone mentioned the Iranian film, Secret Ballot, to me. I had never heard of it before, so checked a YouTube link which had no English subtitles. I didn't even end up watching the film."
The director urged people to watch both films before arriving at any conclusion.
"Newton has travelled to international festivals since February 2017 — including Berlin and Hong Kong, where it won awards. Secret Ballot has also had a successful international festival run. I request people to watch both films and arrive at their own conclusion," the director added.
Secret Ballot had received international acclaim bagging the Best Film and Best Director award for Payami at the Venice festival in 2001.
Here are the trailers of Secret Ballot and Newton. We leave it to readers to decide whether the Indian film is at least partly inspired by the Iranian. The bigger worry for Indian fans would be whether this comparsion will scupper Newton's chances at the Oscars.