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No specific stylistic, structural similarities between Newton, Secret Ballot: Director Babak Payami


The Iranian director's support allays any fear of the makers taking action against those of Newton.

Mayur Lookhar

Newton has got a vote of confidence from the director of Secret Ballot (2001), the Iranian film that is said to have 'inspired' Amit Masurkar's feature. In an email interview with Cinestaan.com, Babak Payami, director of Secret Ballot, said he did not think Newton was plagiarized from his film.

Newton has been receiving critical praise, but the Rajkummar Rao-starrer courted controversy after it was suspected of having been inspired by the Iranian film Secret Ballot. What worried Indian fans was that the talk of plagiarism could have hampered Newton's prospects at the Academy awards next year. Newton is India's official entry to the Oscars.

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“I saw the film and there is no sign of plagiarism. These are completely different films," said Payami after watching Newton. “Any similarities between the two films are broad and I don’t see any specific stylistic or structural similarities. These are two different films on a common theme." 

The Iranian filmmaker was all praise for Newton director Masurkar. “I am happy for the filmmaker’s success and Oscar nomination to represent India," Payami wrote in his email. "This is an important subject matter that must be dealt with by us from deep within our own societies and should not be left to outsiders’ patronizing views of our people’s history and struggle for democracy. India is the world’s largest democracy with her share of trials and tribulations. I only hope that more artists use their voice and engage their audiences with this subject."

Payami’s support allays fears of the Secret Ballot makers taking action against those of Newton. “Thematic similarities are just that and I do not believe this would limit other filmmakers from rendering the same themes in their own voice," Payami continued. "I am therefore not contemplating anything other than my best wishes for Amit Masurkar.”

Last night, producer Anurag Kashyap also posted a response from the makers of Secret Ballot on his social media.

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This reporter watched Secret Ballot without subtitles and the Iranian film gave the impression of being based on batting for equal voting rights for women. Newton sheds some light on the plight of tribals living in the Naxal-infested areas of Chhattisgarh.

Asked about this, Payami replied, “Your impression is correct. All three films that I was able to make in Iran related to the plight of women. I emphasized on their plight as Iranian women suffered greatly under the regime’s persecution and oppression against its own people. Voting right is necessary but not sufficient to women’s equality and freedom. There are many other cultural, social, political and ideological factors at play in a country like Iran that press and persecute women and undermine the true value of women’s contributions to our country (sic).”

“Having said that, I also believe that women in our societies, especially in Iran, have adamantly exerted their power and demanded their rightful place in all facets of society. In Secret Ballot, I have examined this point from a few different perspectives and leave it to my audience to relate to my observations (sic),” Payami added.

We hope Payami's response ends the negative talk around Newton. Below is a video of director Masurkar in conversation with Meenakshi Shedde for Cinestaan.com on the sidelines of the Berlin film festival in February this year.