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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

"Monsoon Shootout": Amit Kumar's decade-long odyssey

With all the hype surrounding the premier of 'Bombay Talkies' at Cannes, many people have overlooked the second Indian feature, 'Monsoon Shootout', chosen for screening at the celebrated film festival.

Whilst 'Talkies' boasts the directing talents of four of the best filmmakers in Bollywood, 'Monsoon Shootout' is the directorial debut of one of the most exciting young talents in Indian cinema, Amit Kumar.

Kumar first burst onto the scene with the 2003 short film 'The Bypass', a beautiful and surreal exploration of violence and corruption in India.

Remarkably it has taken Kumar nearly a decade to complete his first full-length feature; nevertheless he has been richly rewarded after the film was chosen for a special midnight screening at Cannes.

'Monsoon Shootout' tells the story of a idealistic young policeman who faces a suspected gangster in a dead-end alleyway and has to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot.  Three separate scenarios then explore the impact of his decision on the lives of several people connected to the police officer.

Written and directed by Kumar, the film is backed by several high profile names from India and the UK, including Anurag Kashyap and London-based 'Senna' producer Asif Kapadia.

The film stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazzuddin Siddiqui, who also appeared in The Bypass.

In an interview with Screen Daily in 2012, Kumar talked about the development of the film.

On the origins of the project:
The story originated many years back when I was studying at the Film Institute in Pune and saw a short film, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. It starts with a man being hanged and the whole film is an expansion of that one second between someone releasing the lever and him dying. It really hit me. For the first time I realised the potential of expanding just one second into a whole story. And I’d always had this visual of someone with a gun in the rain, not knowing whether to shoot or not to shoot. Somewhere along the line it became a story about a cop. The idea of the morality of killing is very important for me.

On the development process:
I pitched both Monsoon Shootout and The Bypass to Asif Kapadia while working with him on The Warrior and he went back to London and found out about the Cinema Extreme scheme and thought The Bypass would be good for that. I finally made The Bypass with Trevor [Ingman] producing, and it premiered at the Edinburgh film festival in 2003. The festival had a pitching contest, so I pitched Monsoon Shooutout, and was called to London to meet Jenny [Borgars] and Paul [Trijbits] at the UK Film Council. Jenny said she loved the project and took it on. So Trevor and I started developing it with the idea that the project would go from Jenny to Paul and then we’d make it. But the script took longer than we expected.

On the themes:
For me the morality of the film – or of life – is a very important part of the story. I want to make a film that people enjoy watching but at the same time I want to make something I believe in. We’re supposed to be civilised animals, but actually we’re not, we’re just animals, and it’s borderline that line of morality you may eventually cross. I’m justified in killing this guy because he’s Iraqi and I’m American, he’s Pakistani and I’m Indian, he’s a gangster and I’m a cop. Whatever reason you give, when you cross that line, you can’t claim to be a civilised human being. It’s important for all of us to think about the other guy – if I do this to him, what will happen to his family?

On finding partners for the film:
I always knew it was going to get made – I didn’t want to give up – a film like this is not the usual kind of film in India. And because it’s in Hindi and set in India, it’s not the usual kind of film for Europe either. So it was never going to be easy.

Then I bumped into Guneet Monga [producing partner of Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap] at a film party that a friend had dragged me to. I said we needed 50 lakhs [$100,000] and she said we’ll do it! She went back and discussed it with Anurag who already knew the project. They were in a position where they could get the funds and came on board.

On the cast:

Vijay Varma, who plays the rookie cop Adi, also went to the Film Institute in Pune. When I first met him, there was a shine in his eyes, and I thought there was something about him that is amazing. Nawaz was in The Bypass and I knew I wanted to cast him as the suspected gangster, Shiva. I saw Neeraj Kabi when he came in for a reading of Gandhi Of The Month [upcoming Indian production starring Harvey Keitel] and thought he could play the bad cop. Tannishtha I’ve known a long time.

On future projects:
I have several ideas that I’m chasing up – one is a World War Two film that I’m writing with Asif, but I realise it’s bigger scale so might not be good for a second movie. It’s about the British and Indian army fighting the Japanese in Burma. I have another project set in the desert like The Bypass, The Desert Beyond, which is probably easier to do, about a mixed race couple who come to Rajasthan and their son gets lost. And the third option is to make The Bypass as a feature.

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