[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he annual London Indian Film Festival opened on Thursday 18 July and there has been a lot of buzz surrounding it. On opening night, director Amit Kumar’s noir thriller Monsoon Shootout was screened for audiences and received a strong positive response. It was also screened at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where Western critics showed equal appreciation for the film. Roobla brings to you an exclusive interview with Amit Kumar, where he talks about his experiences of making Monsoon Shootout and his views on the Indian film industry, as well as about the London Indian Film Festival.
MF: Firstly, welcome to London. How does it feel to have your film Monsoon Shootout headlining this year’s London Indian Film Festival?
AK: Yeah, it feels good because there’s so many people in London involved in the development of the film. My main producer is British; my mentor and executive producer Asif Kapadia is British and it was also developed by the UK Film Council. So it feels like a homecoming and it’s really great to be here.
MF: There has been a lot of praise for Monsoon Shootout following its screening on opening night. What was the atmosphere like on the night and did you feel that the audience who were present enjoyed it?
AK: I thought they did. We had a good screening and Q&A and there was quite a lot of active participation in that Q&A. It was also very exciting to be the opening film of a festival, especially with the London Indian Film Festival where there is a very Indian/UK connection. So I thought we had a great day!
MF: What inspired you to make Monsoon Shootout?
A: One reason is just the way I am, the person I am. I find it very difficult to take decisions so I always end up agonizing over them. My decisions are not earth shaking or life-changing compared to others. But in this case, the idea of a cop who has to decide whether to shoot somebody or not was translated by my kind of thinking as if I was standing there myself.
MF: Why did you choose to cast Nawazuddin Sidiqque for the leading role?
AK: I worked with Nawazuddin before in my short film The Bypass. So when I started writing this film, I kind of knew who was going to play the Shiva character. So he was kind of locked already in my mind.
The other lead is a guy called Vijay Verma who is a new actor from the Film Institute in Pune. He was a guy who just walked in for an audition. The day he walked in I just looked into his eyes and I thought “he’s my guy!”But then it still took me two years to confirm and I had like hundreds of auditions with him.
MF: How long did it take to shoot this film and were there any challenges which you faced during the process?
AK: I would say that the biggest challenge was getting the money together for the film. But once we started shooting, I think the main challenge was just about the rain and getting it right. It’s really painful and everybody got wet. And if you don’t be very careful with it, you have the rain going in the wrong direction. Otherwise we shot for 44 days, but like any director I would have liked to have had 10 more days.
MF: Satyajit Ray once said in an interview that whenever he re-watched Pather Panchali, he would spot imperfections which he felt could have fixed. When you look back at Monsoon Shootout, do you see any imperfections which you feel you could have reworked?
AK: Not just something, I notice hundreds of things (laughs). Every time there’s a screening, the organisers say “you’ve seen it so you can come out and have a drink and we’ll come back when the film is over.” And I’m like “no I want to watch it.” When I watch it, every time I’m thinking “oh man I should have done this like this, I should have cut this here, I should have done this.” As a filmmaker you always want to keep doing it. But I’ve kind of reached the stage where I have to learn to let go and not make those mistakes again in my next film. I think no film is perfect anyway so I can’t be hard on myself.
MF: Commercial Bollywood is arguably the most dominant form of cinema which attracts film-goers in India and abroad. Do you think independent films will eventually blossom in popularity? Or do you think they will always be underrated?
AK: It will have to carve a niche for itself. I don’t think it will take over the Indian film industry, at least not immediately. That’s not going to happen and I think it’s a bit maybe naïve to think (independent filmmakers) can make good films and steal that audience. We just have to realise that every product and every idea has its niche. Some people like a certain idea and some people don’t. We just have to accept that there’s going to be a particular audience and it will not be in the 100 crore level. But you know you’re not making that kind of film so it shouldn’t be a problem. I think if a distribution network comes up that understands this, at least the popularity of these films will increase and hence more of these films will be made. But I don’t think we will sellotape over that.
MF: Given that this year is the centenary year of Indian Cinema, do you feel that the industry has achieved everything it can, or is there a lot more to be done?
AK: I don’t think we’ve achieved everything there is to achieve. Even all over the world, people have not fully explored the potential of cinema. I don’t think any filmmaking country or culture can say “yeah we’ve reached.”
MF: Do you have any other projects that you are currently working on?
AK: Yeah there are couple of ideas I am trying out but am not sure which one will happen first. One is a World War 2 film; it’s an Indian story with Indian characters. It’s set around North Africa and Burma. There’s another one which is a gangster movie set in London, which has no obvious Indian element. Once you get down to the casting you can end up saying “this guy could be Turkish, Indian or Russian.” But there’s nothing concrete that it has to be an Indian in London. It’s a gangster film and a relationship between a veteran gangster and a young gangster.
MF: Which current Indian actor or actress do you really want to work with in the near future?
AK: It will sound like I’m being diplomatic but I don’t want to bias myself thinking that “I want to work with this actor.” If I have a movie where someone seems to fit, then I would love to work with them.
MF: Which Indian filmmaker has influenced you and your craft the most?
AK: In terms of who has influenced me I would say Ramesh Sippy of Sholay (1975). When I was a kid I watched that movie and then me and my brother Anish would enact the movie. He would be Dharmendra and I would be Amitabh Bachchan. But at some point we started saying “why can’t we have our own story.” So we would invent our own storyline. So the whole idea of storytelling and narrating came from there. In terms of my craft, I would say Asif Kapadia and a German director named Florian Gallenberger are two from whom I have picked up the approach to cinema and performances.
MF: Finally why should people take time to watch Monsoon Shootout?
A: It’s a very different Indian film and it takes you on a journey which puts you in the shoes of a cop who’s making these decisions on whether to shoot somebody or not. It’s a great ride as it’s a thriller and a gangster film and there’s also a great twist at the end. At the same time, if you want to explore something to do with morality, then there’s food for thought in there.
The London Indian Film Festival runs until 25 July where the film Bombay Talkies will feature on closing night! Book your tickets at www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk!