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Lal Salad Newton!

Lal Salad Newton!
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According to Newton’s laws, an object remains in its state of motion or at rest until an external force is applied, object’s motion would be of equal...

According to Newton’s laws, an object remains in its state of motion or at rest until an external force is applied, object’s motion would be of equal magnitude and opposite in the direction of that force.

These are Newton’s laws of motion that give us the relation between external force and motion. The recently released film, ‘Newton’ (India’s official entry for Oscars 2018) is a fine experiment of applying these scientific laws on the issue of oppression of Adivasis and hurdles around it. This movie didn’t stop at just presenting facts but also made this society ashamed by showing it in a sarcastic tone.

Last year, ‘Chitrakutami’, a group of 40 Telugu writers, went to Odisha and Chhattisgarh. We did not find any appropriate public organisations or social activists or intellectuals to have a meaningful discussion on Adivasi issues.

A few human rights workers like Bela Bhatia, are severely threatened and harassed for speaking up on Adivasi issues. The circumstances in these areas are worrisome for people like us, who believe in democracy. Some social organisations, which try to work from outside are eventually eliminated by powerful forces. How did ‘Newton’ enter into such a desert!

Probably, these kinds of constraints or suppression make art form to reach remarkable levels. In the book ‘Roots…’ by Alex Haley, we read how slaves, who were seized in a ship in fetid circumstances, teamed up in an undetected way to revolt against suppression. We read authors writing stories on social problems and bring it to the readers through magical realism.

Not the least, but, we also have seen women showing their anger by throwing utensils in the kitchen. Similarly, artforms also have to find a subtle way to manifest conflicts, where freedom of expression is fragile.

‘Newton’ is one such movie that projected heart-rending facts under the genre of ‘dark comedy’. This movie may not have been aimed to support any revolution. Director of this film might have not even thought about it. However, sympathisers got connected with a few issues bestowed in the movie.

Unlike many movies, ‘Newton’ doesn’t show, causes and consequences of the issue loudly and pompously. It is neither rebellious nor melancholic. The tone of the movie is very subtle and sensible. It brings out viewers’ sensibilities towards the issue artistically and carefully.

A journey in a helicopter, one can reach that place only after eight kilometres of trekking. It is under the vigilance of CRPF, where a random fall of a dry leaf also could bring alerts. Far above, in Dandakaranya, where there are only 76 voters, elections have to be conducted against the backdrop of Maoists’ threats. It supposed to be free and fair voting according to rulebooks.

Director of the film did not just want to show how the election process became a ritual there but also tried to emphasise on root causes that led to this situation. He also tried to cover arguments from many angles.

To show how shabby our parliamentary democracy, they introduced characters from its diametrically opposite edges - a dutiful and honest polling booth preceding officer, who has immense belief in democracy; Malko, a representative of Adivasi rights and freedom; dominant security forces who are careless and indifferent towards election procedure, which is a pretence.

Ignorant and innocent Adivasis, Maoists, who are physically absent but present in spirit throughout the movie. With all these, situations in the movie produced apparent comedy and inner misery at the same time.

Ongoing mining activity for corporate profits attempts to abolish Adivasis and their culture in the process, repression of activists, who are in support of Adivasi rights, Naxalbari movements in the last five decades, etc, would flash in our mind while watching the movie ‘Newton’.

As rebels are trying to mingle with Adivasis to confront dominant forces, security forces are also trying to do similar to counter Naxals. The result is ‘Salwa Judum’. What does the local Adivasi boy in CRPF uniform with guns in hands represent?

When one of the helpers in polling booth asks this boy about real estate prices, he says, “Here, weapons are costlier than land, one riffle costs one lakh, AK 47 costs five lakhs.” One of the scenes reminds us, powerfully, how Maoists surrenders become custodial detention and the torture they go through while detention.

Most of the issues discussed in the movie are left open-ended, which gives some opportunity to viewers to visualise things, which may not be in the director’s mind, depending on their own understanding of this particular issue. This is a strength and also a weakness of this movie.

External forces are posing difficulties to Adivasis lives. Is this movie trying to say that Maoist movements are organised to confront these external forces? According to Newton’s rule, reaction to an action comes in the opposite direction.

When this rule is applied to this issue, is the director treating Naxal politics also as external forces? What was the reaction from Adivasis to these kinds of acts?

A character in the movie says, “Adivasis want freedom from both institutions”; is the director trying to give a personal status to Naxalism? These kinds of questions are ought to come while watching the movie.

Rajkumar Rao, who acted as preceding officer, Newton Kumar in the film that internally embraces a process, many question and many answers, said in a promotional meeting: “Newton Kumar is an ideal character.” Ironically, a character in the movie says that Newton Kumar is a joker with ideal personality in a society in which democracy and elections became a farce.

On the election day, security forces sit outside the polling booth to have lunch that has brought from the Adivasi village. One soldier serves beetroot and tomato salad to everyone. Looking at them, CRPF area commandant Atmaram gives a subtle expression. He picks two pieces up in his hand and says, “Lal Salad” in a sarcastic tone.

Yes, Atmaram…Lal Salad! In last few decades, this is the hit recipe in Dandakaranya.

By: KN Malleswari

Translated from Telugu by Alamuru Sowmya.

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