Amit Masurkar’s acclaimed political satire Newton has been selected as India’s official submission for the Best Foreign Film language category at the Oscars. The selection committee of the Film Federation of India, one of the country’s major trade bodies, announced the decision on Friday, said Supran Sen, the organisation’s secretary general. The committee was headed by Telugu producer CV Reddy, the first member from the Telugu film industry to occupy the position.
“Newton was chosen unanimously by the committee out of 26 entries,” Reddy said. “Everyone in the committee liked it.”
Rajkummar Rao plays Newton Kumar, a presiding officer who is determined to hold a free and fair election in a Chhattisgarh village despite the threat of Naxalite violence and all-round cynicism. The movie, produced by Drishyam Films and distributed by Eros International, also stars Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil and Raghubir Yadav, and was released on September 22.
“I hope this brings more attention to what is happening in Chhattisgarh right now,” Masurkar told Scroll.in. “We are a democracy. It works in certain parts and it doesn’t work in certain others. And that is very unfair. I want people all over India to understand that there are imperfections and we have to be constantly vigilant and working to correct it.”
Masurkar also expressed his gratitude for the selection. “I’m very grateful to the committee for choosing Newton,” he said. “We are in the theatres today and this announcement will help in making more people watch the film. After all, this is a film we made for India.”
Newton will compete, among others, with Ruben Ostlund’s The Square from Sweden, Fatih Akin’s In the Fade from Germany, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father from Cambodia, Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman from Chile, Farhan Alam’s Sawan from Pakistan and Robin Campillo’s BPM: Beats Per Minute from France among others.
The 90th Academy Awards will be held on March 4, 2018, in Los Angeles.
Read Scroll.in’s review of Newton here.
Manish Mundra, founder of Drishyam Films and producer of Newton, was predictably over the moon. “This is the most incredible news of our lives – all of our hard work and faith is finally paying off,” he said. “Newton is a very important film and we cannot thank the Film Federation of India jury enough for recognising and appreciating our efforts. There is truly no greater honour than representing our country at the global stage. And for the news to be announced on the day of Newton’s theatrical release across India – the stars are truly aligning for us.”
The other submissions included Dangal, Baahubali: The Conclusion, Ventilator, Poorna, Mukti Bhawan, Kasaav and Taramani.
“My day is made,” said Tripathi, whose character, Central Police Reserve Force officer Aatma Singh, tries to block Newton’s efforts in an attempt to keep the peace. “It is a very sincere film. We conduct the biggest elections in this country but what is the growth of our democracy, really? Newton raises a lot of important questions in this respect. The Gond tribe, for instance, does not even know why elections are being conducted. And here we are on social media debating the pros and cons of the regime in power.”
The selection proves that cinema is more than just a medium of entertainment, Tripathi added. “It is not about the masala and the paisa vasooli. Yes, cinema intends to entertain but meaningfully so,” Tripathi said.
It is an “extremely proud moment” for Eros International, which took a punt on the theatrical release along with Aanand L Rai’s Colour Yellow Productions. “Newton is totally deserving of this huge honour,” said Sunil Lulla, Managing Director, Eros International. “We will continue to back good cinema as always.”
Rai added, “Good films need to reach the audience, and we as a production company are lucky to be in a place that we can be instrumental in this process. Newton is an important film and we will call it an investment, not a punt. We really believe the film is getting what is deserves and hope it soars more heights.”
Newton is a fitting choice – a film that is relevant to India’s present and unafraid of presenting the hidden truths of the world’s biggest democracy, whether it is the land grab taking place in resources-rich Chhattisgarh or the marginalisation of tribals or the challenges faced by duty-bound government officials who wish to go by the book rather than take shortcuts. The movie’s local and universal themes make it one of the most respectable selections from India in a while.
India has never won a Foreign Language Film Oscar. Last year, Tamil film Visaranai, directed by Vetrimaaran, was nominated but fell out of the race soon after.
Previous submissions in the category include Apur Sansar (1959), Guide (1965), Saaransh (1984), Nayakan (1987), Parinda (1989), Anjali (1990), Hey Ram (2000), Devdas (2002), Harischandra’s Factory (2008), Barfi! (2012) and Court (2015). Typically, the Academy brings out a shortlist and narrows it down to the final five. Only three Indian films have reached the final list of nominations : Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001).
While the title has been out of reach for India and over the years, many controversies have dogged the selection process. A recurring allegation has been that the selection committee is heavily biased towards the powerful Hindi industry. When Barfi! was nominated in 2012, many felt that it was a poor choice and an indication of the committee’s Bollywood focus. When Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya (2007) was chosen, the chairperson of that yea’s jury, Sudhir Misra was again accused of a bias towards Bollywood. Filmmaker Bhavna Talwar, whose film Dharm lost out to Eklavya, accused Chopra of “implanting” voters.
In 2013, the choice of Gyan Correa’s The Good Road over Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox riled up the Hindi film industry, which argued that Batra’s directorial debut had a very strong chance of being picked in the final list of nominations.
There will be a lot more Indian faces at Oscars 2018 nevertheless. In June, 15 Indians were invited to be members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They include Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai, Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose, Sooni Taraporevala, Arjun Bhasin, Anand Patwardhan, Amrit Pritam Dutta and Ujwal Nirgudkar. The invitation, extended this time to 744 members, has been seen as a move to increase diversity in the Academy.