Interview: Filmmaker Amit Masurkar speaks on ‘Newton’, his black comedy set in Chhattisgarh

The 36-year-old writer-director’s second film, following ‘Sulemani Keeda’, will be released on September 22.

While editing his slacker-comedy debut feature, Sulemani Keeda (2013), writer-director Amit Masurkar already had the idea for his next project. He was idling away time on his computer and the word “elections” caught his eye. Even though producers were asking for a repeat of his debut film, Masurkar had set his sights on his next project, a film that would explore themes such as “democracy, identity and duty”.

One thing led to another and four years later, the 36-year-old is gearing up for the Indian release of his second project, Newton, which had its world premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in February, where it won the International Federation of Art Cinemas award.

The September 22-release which has Rajkummar Rao in the lead as the eponymous character, an election official on duty in the jungles of Chhatisgarh, is far away from the comfortable environs of Mumbai’s Versova suburb, the location for Masurkar’s debut feature. Co-written with recurring collaborator Mayank Tewari, Newton, which was shot entirely on location, also stars Pankaj Tripathi, Anjali Patil and Raghubir Yadav.

What is Newton about?
The film is set on the day of the elections from the point of view of a duty-bound election official. Newton is a government servant whose job it is to conduct free and fair elections in the middle of the jungle in a Maoist-influenced area.


What inspired you about the subject matter?
I have always been interested in politics and history. The gap between the ideals of democracy and the way it is practiced is huge and we’re all aware of it. One afternoon, I was randomly typing words on a blank computer screen and wrote down words like constitution, election, electronic voting machine. I suppose that started this journey.

What interests you about a character like Newton?
Newton is quirky, because he has tunnel vision when it comes to doing his duty. You read about these characters in the news, officers who keep getting transferred for being upright. I find these characters interesting because they behave differently from the rest of us

Would you say this is a leap forward from your micro-budget debut Sulemani Keeda? Did you prepare differently in terms of working with a larger crew or directing established actors?
With Sulemani Keeda, I had to work backwards. I wanted to make a film so I had to see what was available to me and then weave a story around it. With Newton, the idea came first. It wasn’t about fitting into a budget or a genre. So the process of working on this film was different.

With respect to the challenges of physically putting together this film, one just needs to be patient and plan well. For that I had great actors and a very able crew.

My biggest challenge was to represent the people and politics correctly, and to get the facts right. Through out the shoot, I would spend the evenings in intense discussions with my co-writer [Mayank Tewari] and cinematographer [Swapnil Sonawane] examining whether we were on the right track.

What kind of research did you undertake?
There aren’t too many books on this topic but one of the first documents I read was a 2008 Planning Commission report on Left Wing Extremism which had authors like Ajit Doval and Bela Bhatia. They seem to have understood the problem correctly. I read Nandini Sundar’s Subalterns And Sovereigns: An Anthropological History Of Bastar, 1854-1996, which helped me understand the history and culture of the region. Rahul Pandita’s Hello, Bastar: The Untold Story Of India’s Maoist Movement was the first book I read on the subject. Javed Iqbal, who had widely reported in that area, helped out with his resources. There were others like Ilina Sen and local journalist Mangal Kunjam who helped us. The latter is also starring in the film.

But our research wasn’t limited to reading and meeting people in Delhi. We spent time in Chhattisgarh meeting all kinds of people: police officers, surrendered Maoists, civil servants, paramilitary, local residents and election officials. On set, we had a para-military consultant and a local language consultant.

Why did you choose to film on location?
The film is set in Chhattisgarh, and we wanted to get the flavour right, everything from Gondi and Chhattisgarhi actors, dialects, to the topography of the area which is very unique.

Were there any security concerns?
Before we went there, we were warned by several people not to venture into southern Chhattisgarh. But both – the government and the Maoists never bothered us, as they saw us as a harmless Bollywood film crew

Rajkummar Rao in Newton. Credit: Drishyam Films.
Rajkummar Rao in Newton. Credit: Drishyam Films.

You have cited Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God as an influence.
I saw the film for the first time in 2005 in Max Mueller Bhavan and have seen it several times since then. I have always wanted to shoot in the jungle ever since. Aguirre is about power and greed going wild in the deepest of jungles, Newton is about bringing Western civilisation’s loftiest idea, democracy, into the jungle

Since your film deals with political issues, were you worried about running into problems with the censor board?
Not really and we have received a U/A certificate with no cuts. It’s an entertaining film about a situation we don’t get to watch on screen. We have treated this with a humanist approach. And despite this if somebody gets offended, it’s their problem.

Is it difficult to find an audience for a film like this? Are they appreciated more abroad or on the festival circuit?
I think there is a big audience in India for all kinds of films. Lack of awareness is a major reason why we miss a lot of good films. The presenters, Aanand L Rai and Eros, are making sure that Newton reaches its audience.

What exactly is the nature of your collaboration with Aanand L Rai?
He’s the presenter, which means that in collaboration with Eros, he is investing in the release of the film. Earlier we were going to release it on 150 screens but now with his help, it’ll be a bigger release.

After Sulemani Keeda, you are making a full-fledged Bollywood venture with established actors. Is there a feeling that you have arrived?
The idea is to enjoy the journey. I’m now working on making the next film.

Amit Masurkar.
Amit Masurkar.
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.