Monsoon Shootout Director Amit Kumar On What He’s Learnt About Releasing A Film In India

Four years after a premiere at Cannes, the filmmaker looks back at the time he spent waiting in the wings. He says it’s like being at the last stage of a relay race and not having anyone waiting to take the baton
Monsoon Shootout Director Amit Kumar On What He’s Learnt About Releasing A Film In India

This Friday will see the release of Monsoon Shootout, the debut feature by Amit Kumar that screened in the Midnight Screenings section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. In their review, The Hollywood Reporter called the film "a cunningly intricate first film from India, Monsoon Shootout combines the best of two worlds – a ferocious Mumbai cops and gangsters drama, and a satisfyingly arty plot that turns in on itself to examine the outcome of three possible choices a rookie cop might make when he confronts a ruthless killer."

Starring a talented cast that includes Vijay Varma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Neeraj Kabi, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Geetanjali Thapa, the film is a noir that delves into morality and deals with the famous dilemma – does the end justify the means? Adi (Varma), a rookie cop out on his first mission, must make a crucial decision when a chase involving gangster Shiva (Siddiqui) ends up with him behind the trigger. Should he take the shot or risk the murder suspect getting away? The film, told in three chapters, plays out the different scenarios in which the story could have played out.

On the eve of the release, Kumar tells us about waiting for four whole years to release the film, his next Amazon Prime show and why he still believes an audience for 'content' cinema still exists in India. Excerpts:

Monsoon Shootout screened at Cannes in 2013. But it's releasing now, after four whole years. What have you learnt about getting a film released during this time?

When you're writing the film, you're saying, "This is the toughest part." When you're trying to raise finance for the film, and it took us almost 3 years, I thought as a filmmaker, "This is the toughest part of the journey," because it's impossible to convince somebody to put the money on an intangible idea that's in your mind. Then you make the film and you think "Okay, it's tough, but it should be fine." In post-production you think, "Is it going to become the movie that I made? Because I can't go back and shoot now".

Then you think "Where is it going to go?" As an indie filmmaker, it's not like you will make it and it will release in the box office – it's going to go to festivals. "At least I hope it goes to Nashik Film Festival." Then you get through to Cannes and think, "Great! Maybe the process is over now."

Then you come back and realize you're a naive idiot. Now is the toughest part because you've not only spent several crores of someone's money, you've used the creative talents, time and energy of so many people. And now you have to convince somebody to put in more money to put it out there. One thing I realized is that it's a relay race and this is the last step of it. There's nobody waiting to take your baton. The whole journey has been meaningless.

I'm lucky because for my next show with Amazon Prime, I have not only cut off 3 years of the raising finance bit, I've also cut off 4 years of the release bit. It becomes much easier. Now it's about your own trauma – how do you write it and how do you shoot it. You already know who is paying for it and who is going to put it out there.

This is another reason why longform content on Netflix and Amazon Prime is attractive for a content creator. What is the meaning of that hassle? It is to find people who believe in your vision.

Did the fact that Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a bigger star now help get a release?

I can't say it was only Nawazuddin because maybe then it would have happened last year since he'd already done Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Kick. I think the fact that he is not the lead would also have been one of the factors causing the delay.

If you have the star and he's the lead of the film, then it's a no-brainer. In this film, he plays a great role but he's not the lead. You're trying to sell a film where the lead is an unknown kid. So how do you sell it? This film is neither a thoroughly commercial celebrity vehicle nor is it a tender reflection on life. It's somewhere in the middle.

Anupama Chopra with the director and cast at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013
Anupama Chopra with the director and cast at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2013 you said the scenario has changed and people can pitch anything today, even if it is outrageous. Four years later, do you still feel that the age for content cinema is now?

I very sincerely believe that even in 2008 when I started funding the Indian audience was there. My logic is – I'm an Indian. If I can come up with this idea and find enough partners to help me make this, why are we saying that Indians are not ready for this?

I have always believed that they were ready then and they are much more than ready now. The part of the business that deals with distribution said, "There has been no proof that a film like this can be received by the audience hence we will say they are not ready for this."

And it's only over the years that different people have taken the risk and gotten films out. Now collectively those gatekeepers have seen examples that have worked and are now willing to take the risk.

Vijay Varma's character Adi is an idealist. He joins the crime branch hoping to bring criminals to justice using the law. But he soon finds himself amidst garbage, in the rain, surrounded by corruption. Do you think it's possible for pureness to remain untarnished? Or are you a cynic in this regard?

I'm a cynic. I look at it in a very simple way. I'm sure there's a lot of people who'd rather make cinema of hope and I wonder whether I should be full of optimism. For me, moral goodness dies and I would rather let it die pure than become corrupt. It defeats the purpose being morally good.

What are your future plans? Are you going to shift to working primarily on web content?

The Amazon Prime show I'm doing is called The Last Hour. I have two film ideas that I want to put through – a time travel love story and a World War 2 film. You know the saying 'Once bitten, twice shy'? I'm not feeling that way. I'll happily make another film. I have the confidence that the ideas will resonate with people and will make for good films. It's just about finding the right partners.

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