In India, the world’s largest democracy, braces itself for another general election- with 9 million polling booths, more than 800 million voters, and costing nearly $5 billion. Newton Kumar, a rookie government clerk finds himself entrusted with a task that appears deceptively simple: conducting elections in a remote village in the jungles of central India. The forest teems with Communist guerrillas, who have been waging a decades old war against the state, even as the indigenous tribals live without any access to mainland amenities. Conducting ‘free and fair’ elections in a minefield like this is no child’s play, as Newton learns over the course of this eventful day. Unfazed with the cynicism and danger all around him, Newton is determined to do his duty. But, as they say in the jungle, ‘The more things change, the worse they will get’.
It was the winner of 12 Awards at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Asian Film Awards, International Film Academy and the Berlin International Film Academy and was nominated for 17 other awards at other festivals.
Pow-wow after the film:
Panelists: Seema Sarkar Manji (East FM), Regina Opondo (CRECO)
Moderator: Zahid Rajan
Seema: talked about the how Bollywood had turned the corner and was now increasingly making films with a social message rather than the traditional love and song sequences. Other such recent films were: ‘My name is Khan’, ‘Medium’, ‘Lunch Box, ‘PK’ and ‘ Piku’. The main actor in ‘Newton’, Rajkumar Rao, had also acted in other such social films like ‘Aligarh’, ‘Trapped’ and ‘Shahid’.
Regina touched on:
- The similarities to the Kenyan Election of 2017 where the security forces were responsible for the deaths of Kenyans in the post-election violence that ensued.
- Why good people do not stand for elections thus letting the corrupt and inept become leaders.
- Linguistic barriers to access to information as even Kiswahili is not spoken throughout Kenya. In the film the villagers could not comprehend the important message of the Election monitors.
- Reflection on the bigger governance picture where the youth comprise 50% of the population and the disenfranchisement of voters leading to populations forming breakaway ‘nations’ like the MRC in 2013.
- Citizenship and Nationhood: What is the peoples relationship with the security forces and authority e.g. the almost permanent state of ‘emergency’ that exists in the Northern Frontier District and parts of the coast.
- Voting is a right and you can choose to exercise it or not. The issue of civic and political education in this aspect is important.
- Culture and Democracy and the phenomenon of ‘negotiated democracy’ as manifested in North East province and the ‘Handshake’.
How does one keep the people interested in their role beyond the voting booth i.e. through monitoring of the counting and announcement of the final winners and losers?