Kaleem Aftab writes from the London Indian Film Festival about Monsoon Shootout, which opened the festival.
London Indian Film Festival opener Monsoon Shootout has British ties
It was fitting that the London Indian Film Festival should open with Monsoon Shootout. The director Amit Kumar first came up with the idea for the police drama when he was a student at the film school in Pune, where he met a British film student named Asif Kapadia, who was seeking help to make his graduation film. The two students became fast friends. Soon, Kumar was working on a number of Kapadia’s films and the Senna director reciprocated the service. With the help of Kapadia and his sometime-producer Trevor Ingman of Yaffle Films, Kumar began receiving financing from British government bodies for his short films. The British Film Institute also helped develop Monsoon Shootout, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Even though Monsoon Shootout is an Indian film, it still somehow has a British connection,” posits the Mumbai-based director Kumar. “I don’t know if I’d call it a flavour, but it has a connection. So this feels like a homecoming to me.”
Monsoon Shootout follows the template of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run (1998) by telling a story using three different perspectives. Adi (Vijay Varma) is a new recruit for the police force and is faced with a dilemma when he corners a suspected gangster in an alleyway: does he shoot or not? Adi’s mother lives by the mantra that whenever someone is faced with a choice, there is always a good way, bad way and middle way. Adi must decide which option to choose. What’s intriguing is that Kumar veers away from using the device to make his film a comment on ethics and morality. Instead, each story almost stands alone as the argument is put that some things are just down to fate.
The director seems to have a fascination for films that play around with time. “For me, the most powerful reference was a short film made in 1962 called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by a French guy Robert Enrico that won the Cannes prize. It was one of the first films that I saw when I joined film school and I was blown away by it. Watching a movie that could play around with time and could expand time – I found that device so powerful and thought this is something cinema can do that no other art form can do.
“So when I had this idea of a cop with a gun trying to make up his mind, it just came naturally that it would use the ability to go back and forth in time and look at alternative scenarios as a device.”
The Indian director has an infectious and charming personality. But it was his grandiose imagination that first pulled him towards cinema. “I got into film because when we were kids, we went to Africa, my father was an engineer and my mother a dressmaker. Just before we left, we saw Sholay  on the big screen, and when we got to Africa there were a bunch of Indian people in the community and my brother and I would re-enact scenes from Sholay for our neighbours, who found it very amusing. I then began changing the situations – same characters but a new plot, I would be Amitabh Bachchan and my brother would be Dharmendra. By the time we returned to India I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.”
So what was it like being Amitabh Bachchan? “Very tall and very angry,” he quips.
The monsoon season in India is also one of his favourite seasons of the year. “I love the rain. The monsoon we had this year was great. Everybody says: ‘how can you love it? The roads are blocked and you get wet.’ I say it’s because I have the privilege of being a writer-director. I sit at home and I watch it from the window and as I’m not getting wet, I’m enjoying it.
“I love the power of it. I think it’s very cinematic and in this movie I think it serves another purpose – while time is standing still, there is one thing moving and that is the rain.”
The London Indian Film Festival opened on July 18 and ends Thursday. Visit www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk
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