It was the search of a political idea on the web that led to the inception of Newton.
Amit Masurkar was determined to make his next film a political one after the critically acclaimed Sulemani Keeda. Amit spent the subsequent days doing things that writers often do – type out words on Google and look for all possible search results.
“The words that caught my attention were ‘polling booths’, ‘EVMs’ and ‘Presiding Officer’. I typed other words too and the search threw up ‘political dynasties’, ‘conspiracies’ and ‘scandal’. We already have seen films dealing with the latter topics but one has never seen anything from the point of view of people who conduct elections,” reveals Amit, on how Newton was born.
After having travelled to roughly 50 film festivals across the world with the film, the moment is finally here for the director, as his labour of love will be screened in cinema halls of its origin country.
Newton was shot in the Naxal prone areas of Chhattisgarh. Amit maintains that he was very clear about rooting his film in the region of Chhattisgarh because of its red earth and unique tree topography. So was it a cakewalk shooting in the Naxalite zone? Amit answers, “Do you think so? It was quite tough actually. We wanted to cast local people for the film. It would have been tough getting them to a different location. With so many people it was easier for us to just go there and shoot.”
Despite the assurance and cooperation by the state government, the first day of the film unit in Chhattisgarh was anything but a smooth ride. The first location earmarked for the shoot was a forest area near Raipur. To the unit’s horror, ten days before the shoot of this low budget flick was to commence, the forest officer (also the signing authority), was found guilty of corruption charges. The subsequent raids yielded millions in cash stashed at his house.
“We had no clue what to do next as he had also turned a fugitive. After the officer was sent to jail, the next one was scheduled to join in his place only after few days. It was only after the local line producer informed us of another location called Dallirajara that the shoot could commence,” informs Amit. When the shooting began, the unit was informed by the local police chief not to take any police protection, as it would have meant danger to their lives. The covert message was to be behave like locals.
Being a low budget flick, the film also had its share of disappointment even at the scripting stage. Two leading production houses rejected the script even before reading the plot. Was it disappointing? “Not at all. I am more comfortable working with faces that I know. If somebody green lights a project and later quits his job, chances are that when someone replaces him your project might just go south. No one is interested in taking chances at these foreign studios.”
Amit was also part of the writing team that gave the fabulous The Great Indian Comedy Show, but the following years were full of struggle bearing no results despite the hard work. He would pitch ideas to directors and after being signed would start working on a script. The saga continued for four years and not a single script could fructify in the shape of a film. This was also the phase when he suffered depression. “I don’t know how I got out of it. I just decided not to depend on other people. It was then that I decided that I should do my own thing. I made a list of things that were available to me and then wrote a script around it and that’s how Sulemani Keeda happened.”
It was sheer luck for Amit when Newton metamorphosed from an independent film to a studio-backed film. It was a one-month assistantship under Aanand L Rai in 2004 for a telefilm that tilted things in his favour. “Rajkummar Rao showed him a clip of Newton and the shots impressed him. When Raj told him about me, his instant reaction was ‘I know him’. He then took my phone number and called to say that he loved the clip and was open for help of any sort,” reveals Amit.
Thanks to the filmmaker of Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa, the initial plan of releasing the film in 150 screens has now trebled.
For this engineering drop out, jungles have now become addictive. “I realised after the shoot, jungles are very addictive. You have to build your own infrastructure. There is a thrill and it gives a very sublime feeling,” he adds.