Foreign Policy Magazine

Newton’s Last Discovery

Bollywood’s dark hit comedy features a bureaucrat lost in India’s political jungles.

THIS YEAR, INDIA SENT A WAR MOVIE to the Academy Awards, though the prize jury may not have realized it.

On its surface, the small-budget sleeper hit Newton is a wry, tightly wound comedy about the absurdities of Indian democracy. It may seem chiefly notable for breaking out of the shallow, conservative mold of mainstream Indian cinema. But its odd-man-out story—about a government clerk struggling to conduct an election deep in the heart of a central Indian jungle—doesn’t flinch from exposing the costs of India’s long counterinsurgency against its ongoing 50-year-old Maoist rebellion.

Newton was a good choice for the Oscars’s foreign-language film category: It should speak to audiences in democracies everywhere that are experiencing crises of self-belief. But it is also a bold choice for the Film Federation of India to send abroad—particularly at a moment when the mood of the nation, encouraged by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, tends toward thin-skinned nationalist sentimentality.

One of the speculations laid to rest by its decision was that selectors might choose, instead, to send 2017’s nationwide blockbuster Baahubali 2, a splashy fantasy about a muscular Hindu hero who reclaims his kingdom from corrupt rivals trying to cheat him of his patrimony. That reverie,

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