As “Monsoon Shootout” finds an ‘official’ midnight slot at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, we speak to director Amit Kumar and his lead actors

Would you like to spend 10 years on your first feature film? Well, if your film wins an official selection at Cannes, why not! Meet Amit Kumar, whose “Monsoon Shootout” has been selected for the ‘Midnight Screenings’ section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Amit says the film is about the decisions we make. “When we have to make a crucial decision a lot of possibilities flash across our mind. As a student of cinema, I was always fascinated by the idea of expansion of time. What if one second of life can be expanded to half an hour of screen time? So I came up with the idea of a first-time gangster holding his gun to somebody’s head. He is supposed to kill but he can’t because his morals and guilt start colluding against his decision. Gradually it developed into a screenplay wherein three possible scenarios emerge,” says the FTII graduate who started by assisting Asif Kapadia and went on to direct a short film called “Bypass”, which won a BAFTA.

Amit doesn’t want to delve too much into his struggle. “Nobody had put a gun to my head to make a film. It was my choice and I better do it my way. So I don’t want to romanticise my struggle. It took me four years to write and rewrite the script. Then the process of finding like-minded producers started. In the beginning I faced questions like ‘Why don’t you cast a particular star?’ But, as I said, I was ready to wait and not compromise. I was asked, ‘Why do you want 50 days to complete the shoot? It could be done in 35 days.’ I persisted with my conviction and finally got the like-minded people to back the project.”

Last year “Miss Lovely” and “Ship of Theseus” also made a mark at film festivals but they are yet to find a place at the box office. “Mine is an accessible film and perhaps that’s why it is selected for the Midnight Screening with Johnnie To’s ‘Blind Detective’. To is known for his brand of action-thrillers. And on the surface ‘Monsoon Shootout’ is also a gangster-cop thriller.” Backed by Anurag Kashyap and Guneet Monga, Amit says the film is getting a good response from Indian distributors as well. “After the selection for Cannes, people’s perception about the film changes. I am the same person and the film is also the same but suddenly I have become part of an exclusive club.”

Talking about the rising international interest in our films, Amit says nobody is doing it for charity. “We have a talent pool and an audience base waiting to be tapped. ‘Monsoon Shootout’ speaks an international language. There is a believability in characters and situations. Having said that, I haven’t really analysed what makes a film crossover, and would wait for the reaction of the critics.” Having worked with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the short film “Bypass”, Amit says the actor was the obvious choice for the role of the gangster, Shiva. For the role of the cop he opted for FTII graduate Vijay Verma. “I was mesmerised by his eyes but people around me were not as convinced. So I auditioned him many times.”

Nawazuddin, who has three films at Cannes this year, says, “Amit doesn’t want mannerisms or gestures from his actors. He wanted us to internalise everything and let the camera capture the details.”

“I don’t want my actors to show off. I want them to live life on screen,” reasons Amit.

Tannishtha Chatterjee says it was not the role but the screenplay that attracted her to the film. “It is the same old character of a traumatised wife of a gangster but the way Amit has written it made me do the film. I really liked the way he prepares his actors, particularly the child actor Farhan. One look at him and I would burst out.” The two go back a long way, as Amit was an assistant director on Florian Gallenberger’s “Shadows of Time”, where Tannishtha made her mark for the first time.

Amit says handling child actors’ mood swings is difficult but he has a way with kids. “I am careful about the emotional upheaval certain scenes can cause but these days most parents really don’t care and children are exposed to violence. “There was a scene where Farhan was supposed to hold a gun. I was hesitant about explaining it to him but he confidently said he would do it as he had seen it many times in films. They understand that there won’t be any real consequences of holding a gun in front of the camera.” Another character demanded casting a 14- or 15-year-old girl as a bar dancer, but Amit says his conscience didn’t allow him to cast an actor of that age. “I opted for a 19-year-old girl who looked younger.”

Reminiscing on the shooting experience, Tannishtha says, “The entire film is shot during the monsoons. So for 48 days I was completely drenched! There were days when we didn’t get natural rains but Amit managed to create the effect.” Amit wants us to watch the film and see if we can make out the difference.

In the red corridor

A regular at film festivals, Tannishtha Chatterjee says the position of female actors is not too great even in independent cinema. “Look at Irrfan, Adil Hussain and Nawazuddin. They are getting their best roles in their 40s. I had experienced the festival circuit much earlier but when it comes to female actors, directors, irrespective of the stream, start looking for fresh faces the moment you cross a certain age.” She is right for she didn’t get the kind of response after “Brick Lane” that Nawaz is getting now.

Tannishtha feels the industry is still male-dominated when it comes to writers and directors. “There is only one Juhi Chaturvedi, and you could see the difference she made in ‘Vicky Donor’. I mean people went to watch the film just to watch the mother and mother-in-law track.”

Comparing her career graph to that of Freida Pinto, Tannishtha says Freida got mainstream success early. “I don't think it is about the name. My films were never box-office hits. They were more art house. And I feel happy about it because mainstream success limits you in a sense. If you are remembered for how you looked in a film or how you put your makeup, I find it very boring as an empowered woman. It happens the other way round in academic circles. There, if a girl is beautiful, her success is attributed to her looks.”

However, Tannishtha will soon be seen in a couple of mainstream Hindi films. The first is “I Love New York” where she is cast opposite Sunny Deol. Buy why is she out of the promos? “They want to keep it as a surprise. Mine is a very strong character who doesn’t take any nonsense. Not even from Sunny Deol!” But she is more enthusiastic about “Gulaab Gang”, where she is one of the members led by Madhuri Dixit. “No doubt, our acting styles are different but I am a great fan of her dancing. And now that she has seen life, she has definitely improved as an actor. It is a commercial film and is only loosely based on the real gang that exists in Bundelkhand region. It is about women using physical strength to counter atrocities. The idea stands for all weaker sections as aged people also face lot of rogue elements in cities.” On the independent front, she is looking forward to Partho Sengupta's “Sunrise” with Adil Hussain , and a Bengali film with Soumitra Chatterjee.