‘The idea of ‘what will happen if’ is really interesting to me.’~ Amit Kumar
For me this film is about me making choices. Thankfully I don't have to make such dramatic choices. ~ Amit Kumar
Amit Kumar wrote Monsoon Shootout in 2008 and began filming in 2011. Since then the film garnered much acclaim at festivals around the globe but didn’t get a commercial release in India until now. While speaking to Amit regarding the genesis of the idea and his future plans one cannot help but notice his regard for content. He believes that the industry is going through a shift that is more accepting of stronger and stranger ideas now.
What was the genesis of the idea for the film?
I was at film school (FTII) and I had this vision of a guy standing in the rain, holding a gun and having a moral dilemma whether to shoot or not. At that time I thought the character would be a gangster killing someone for the first time and fighting with his conscience. That’s how the idea came into being. The reason the idea stayed with me and developed overtime I think, is because I realized that I agonize over choices just as much. The idea of ‘what will happen if’ is really interesting to me. Since I cannot know the answer to that question in real life, I really enjoyed dwelling in that thought on screen. So I think somehow the idea of man with a gun deciding whether to shoot or not seemed to fit perfectly well with the idea of playing with time and extrapolating a choice and saying if you do this, this would happen. At the time, I was getting an offer to make a film in Hollywood but I decided that this is the film I want to make as my first feature film irrespective of how I do it and how long it takes. For me this film is about me making my choices. Thankfully I don’t have to make such dramatic choices.
How was the casting process for the film? Was Nawaz your first choice for the role?
I somehow don’t like to keep an actor in mind while writing. It can be quite dangerous if you write for the certain quirks of a particular actor and then if you don’t get the actor, it looks artificial in the film. But at the back of mind I sort of knew that Nawaz would play Shiva. I had worked with him on Bypass and I knew I wanted the same kind of energy and it’s going to be that kind of character. But when I pitched the film to him he said he wants to play the lead. For me it’s the eyes that matter, so I told him that ‘when I look into your eyes I don’t see a naive character. I don’t mean that it’s inherent in you, but through my eyes your eyes have a touch of evil in them.’ And for me that is what I wanted in Shiva. For a week or so after this conversation we held on to our egos. But then I finally called him and told him that, ‘I want to run you through all the scenes of Shiva.’ And he met me and heard the script, and half way through the narration he agreed to do the film.
Vijay Varma who plays the lead, studied at FTII at the same time as an associate director I knew- Rima. She suggested his name when she heard the description of the character. So Vijay came to my house and right at the door when I saw him the first time, I knew this is the guy I want for the cop’s character. It took a year of torturing him with auditions and convincing the rest of the team that this is the guy for the role.
The kid took some time to find. We went through the normal process of casting but I wasn’t happy with any of the kids we were seeing. So we looked at the kids from the extras, and found Chotu. I found all the actors I wanted. It was not easy, it took 6 months, and we didn’t have Chotu when we started shooting. But at the end of it I was happy with the cast.
Are you worried about the parallels that would be drawn between Nawaz’s character in Raman Raghav 2.0 and Monsoon Shootout?
I haven’t seen Raman Raghav 2.0. I have seen the trailer so I get an idea of what you’re talking about. However, I trust the character that I have, I trust Nawaz’s performance as the character and I trust that characters place in our film. So I am not really worried. Like I said I haven’t watched Raman Raghav, but in Monsoon Shootout, Shiva isn’t just one kind of a character. He could be evil or could not be evil.
Once Guneet got involved she brought with her, her whole line production energy.
Interesting trailer. How did the interactive trailer happen?
The idea was, how do you reflect exactly what the film is about. It’s not enough to just say that the film is about criminals and the cops, with these songs, in this environment. It’s not about all these things. The film is really about a moment of choice. So from that the idea came that the best thing to do is have a trailer that also has the moment of choice. There were some technical hassles we had to deal with of course. But eventually it worked.
What was Guneet Mongas contribution to the film?
I had met Guneet Monga once before. She saw Bypass at a friend’s place and said she would like to do something together. Cut to, many years later when we were looking for financing for Monsoon. It was being developed by the UK Film Council. But we didn’t have the whole finance. Luckily one evening I met Guneet at an event and she asked me how Monsoon was coming along and I told her we had a gap in the finance and she immediately agreed to help us. I however asked her to read the script and get back. And after reading the script she did get back and she provided the thrust of pushing the film and getting it made. Our then producer was a British guy and he wasn’t fully equipped to handle the scene in India, but once Guneet got involved she brought with her, her whole line production energy. She was championing the film around, showing it to people. For the last few years she has been banging on every door to make sure the film gets a proper release. Without her the film wouldn’t get till here.
You’ve been working on this project for a while now. What else has happened in the meantime and what are you future plans?
I’m currently working on a show for Amazon Prime- India Originals. I am co-writing it with my wife. I will be directing and producing it also. I also have a few other ideas that I am working on but it may take some time to setup and make it happen because I realize it’s a little strange for India. One is Science fiction film, then there is a time travel love story and another is a film based during the World War 2.
It’s only due to success of other recent films, that a film like this is now getting a release.
What are the challenges you faced in all these years since the film was being made and do you think the industry has changed in the last 4 years?
Yeah, I think the industry has changed drastically. We finished writing the film in 2008 and we shot it at the end of 2011. So it took us almost 3 years to make it happen. The world was not ready for it, the financial environment wasn’t ready for a film like this and similarly with the release, we went through the same struggle. We’ve had to wait and wait. It’s only due to success of other recent films, that a film like this is now getting a release. But during the financing stage also we were kind of sure, that we weren’t in a hurry to make this film. We wanted to work with people who understood our vision, we didn’t want to fight our way through it and it was same with the release. We decided we’d wait for the right time and right kind of associations. Like you said in the last 4 years the industry has changed so much that it is really facilitating the release of a film like this. If I was to write this film now, wanting to make it, I don’t think it will be so much of a struggle.