Rajkummar Rao stars in "Newton". Photo: NDTV

The Hindi film Newton has been unanimously chosen by the Film Federation of India’s judges to represent the country in the prestigious Oscars race.

Thanks to the publicity, legions of moviegoers flocked to theaters on Friday to be among the first to see the newly released film, which was among 26 entries considered for the coveted nomination.

National award-winning actor Rajkummar Rao plays Newton,  the lead character, alongside co-stars Pankaj Tripathi and Anjali Patil.

Soon after the nomination, Rao took to Twitter to share his happiness: “Very happy to share this news that #NEWTON is India’s official entry to the #OSCARS this year. Congratulations team.”

Asked about the choice of title, writer-director Amit Masurkar said he encountered an interesting profile on Facebook and decided to name the movie after the person. “When I was brooding over fixing a name for the lead role, I came across this name. And, it immediately clicked,” Masurkar told Asia Times just after the Oscar announcement.

Masurkar’s film, which premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, tells the story of an idealistic government clerk struggling to cope with the apathy, lethargy and corruption he sees all around him while he tries to conduct a free and fair poll in a conflict-hit area of Chhatisgarh.

Masurkar’s last production was the comedy Sulemani Keeda, and he said he wanted to tell a more substantial story in his next one.

“Politics became my primary choice as each one of us can relate to the polls. We then started to build a story around politics and polling,” he said. “We based this film on a jungle where elections are on. It is a conflict zone. Our Newton represents the government and intends to do his duty. He does not bend in any situation.”

He added: “Since July 2015, we have been writing and modifying our script till we started shooting. A lot of efforts in research and exploration of story ideas that were put in behind the film have made the difference.”

On the choice of the Naxalite insurgent movement – formally known as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) – as the real-life narrative basis for the script, Masurkar said, “We chose this plot because it is a burning issue in the heart of India… and it is not a territorial issue along the borders that are in the media limelight. In this movie, the issue of Naxals is viewed in diverse perspectives to highlight the intricate nature of the issue and the conflicts of ideologies within the issue.”

On the adoption of a Facebook profile name, Mayank Tewari, who co-authored the movie with Masurkar and has a cameo in the film, told Asia Times, “Masurkar came across a person by this name in real [life] which he found interesting. My challenge as a writer was to justify the character to match this name. And, it had a dramatic effect for the good.”

He added: “Newton will not be an extraordinary or brilliant man. He is a simple ideological who sticks to his firm beliefs irrespective of circumstances.”

Referring to the Oscar nomination, Tewari said it was an accomplishment in itself, adding: “Both I and Amit were very clear that we wanted to make a sincere movie… not a cynical one about a brilliant guy or such. Sincerity is the wave right now.”

For Masurkar, the movie being nominated on the day of its release was a good box-office omen. “We foresee a rush for our movie in the forthcoming days,” he said.

Tears flowed on the set

Mayank said he and his fellow filmmakers were moved to tears during the shooting of a scene. “I was playing a reporter, quizzing a person about his take on the elections. It was an unscripted scene and the person opened his true feelings through words. Director Masurkar couldn’t say ‘cut’ and we were all moved to tears.”

Masurkar also revealed that shooting the movie in a forest was a challenging experience. “It lacked roads and we had to battle shattering showers,” he said.

On rumors about them recruiting real Naxalites for the production, Raghav Gupta, executive producer of Drishyam Films, said, “We have cast real tribal people who were not actors, but we did not come across any known Naxalites. Some of them have never watched a movie in this life. Of course, our movie had a Naxal element in it, and hence, we had to choose Chhattisgarh.”

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