[A]mit Kumar’s ten year long journey culminates in a midnight screening at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Amit first pitched Monsoon Shootout to the UK Film Council in 2003 but waited for eight years to start shooting in 2011. In an exclusive interview to DearCinema.com, Amit Kumar talks about his film, working with international co-producers and his decade long struggle to make Monsoon Shootout happen.
How does it feel to have your film in the official selection at Cannes?
It’s a great honour. Waves of excitement interspersed with tonnes of work!
For the two years while I was hunting for finance, it was by and large the same story- okay we love your short film and your script but…let’s cast some star in it. I just wanted to work with good actors; I wanted to make a certain kind of film. So, it took much longer
How did the idea for Monsoon Shootout originate?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of people taking a decision. One of the first films I saw at the FTII was a short film called An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge which is basically about expansion of time. What if one second of life can be expanded to half an hour of screen time? I got the idea from there and somewhere along the way because I had been fascinated with people taking decisions, while I was at the institute, 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 he is thinking and his morals and guilt start coming in. The image was of a gangster standing in the rain with a gun in his hand trying to make up his mind. Gradually it developed into a screenplay.
How was the journey of developing the film, from looking for funds to completion?
The first part of the journey was leading a normal middle class existence with no film connection to getting into films which wouldn’t have been possible at all without my parents’ support, financial and emotional. My brother who is a geologist kept saying don’t worry. If you don’t have money for a month, don’t worry. It’s not like I needed to take money from them every month but it’s a security in your mind that you don’t need to worry. And then you can keep at it even if it takes ten years. I am not saying it should take ten years but you can go on because of the support system. That’s one very important thing.
Second part of the journey was the development of the film. Trevor Ingman, who had produced my short film (The Bypass) with Asif Kapadia, came on board as producer. He developed Monsoon Shootout with the support of Jenny Borgars at the UK Film Council. After several years, when the script was ready, Emma Clarke championed it and Lenny Crooks got UKFC on board as half the producer and we were supposed to find an Indian partner. The whole journey was very difficult because the money from UK film council had to be spent in the UK, so the budget became very high and it became too expensive for Indian co-producers. So at some point we thought, we had to shoot the film the Indian way.
Anyhow, the UK film council shut down and that came as a blessing in disguise for us. Because we had no option but to work the Indian way as far as the spend went. For the two years while Trevor was hunting for finance, it was by and large the same story- ‘okay we love Amit’s short film and the script but…let’s cast some star in it’. I just wanted to work with good actors; I wanted to make a certain kind of film. And fortunately, I had a producer like Trevor, who was on the same wavelength. So, even though it took much longer, he backed me to the hilt and we carried on hunting for the right partners. Then, Trevor got Arte France on board and soon, the Dutch producer Martijn De Grunt wanted to come on board too.
Then we really needed an Indian producer and that’s when I bumped into Guneet Monga. She asked me what’s happening to my film and I told her we don’t have an Indian producer. And straightaway she said: I’m on. She had seen my short film before. Then of course she read my script and discussed the details.
Ten years have passed between The Bypass and Monsoon Shootout. What took you so long?
We started looking for money for The Monsoon Shootout in 2008. It took us two years. 2010 end, I met Guneet. In 2011, since we had so many international co-producers on board, the whole contract took about seven-eight months. Then we shot in 2011. 2012 we edited. Four-five months, we edited in India with my editor Atanu. It was a huge task as I shoot many takes and we had lots of footage. We had a cut that was quite good but I thought it could go somewhere else. We needed a new perspective on it. Then my friend Asif (Kapadia) who is also the creative producer of the film asked me to come to the UK and let his editor Ewa have a pass at it. So we went there and it took a couple of months.
Then I was trying to get the right kind of score. I wanted some international people involved. Antonio Pinto who did City of God and also worked with Asif on Senna…we spent a month or two waiting for him. But he couldn’t work out his time. Then I wanted Dario Marianelli who had worked on The Bypass and had won an Oscar for Atonement. He was also busy doing one big film. I tried to find that window of opportunity hoping that he could give four-five weeks for our film. It didn’t work out. It was just the journey of waiting for the right composer that took so long. And it was in January this year that we found the person we’re going with, LA-based composer Gingger Shankar. So, 2004, I started writing the script. In fact, it was in 2003 that I first pitched the film to UK film council.
Monsoon Shootout can be called one of the successful international co-productions in India recently. How is it working with several international collaborators on a project?
For me it has been very pleasant. I don’t know what kind of experience other people have had but…
There are two-three things one has to keep in mind if you’re trying to go for an international co- production. First and foremost- is the subject really worthy of international co-production? I don’t think every film is ideal for it. It could be that you go crazy looking for international funds but it could occur to you later that you will not easily get international co-producers for this subject.
Secondly, I think you have to be aware that our way of working and the international way of working are very different. So as long as you accept that and don’t let it bother you, it’s fine. They are very particular about paperwork and doing things a certain way. Whereas you believe in fate and destiny. We just know it will happen though we don’t necessarily have a system in place. We make thousands of films every year without paperwork. Of course the paperwork, the system and the order has many advantages. It’s all about getting used to the idea.
My feeling is that if you select the right partners in the beginning-whether it’s an international co-production or not- you are fine. But if you have the wrong partner, you can always find reasons to fall apart as you go along.
Why did you decide to cast Vijay Varma, Nawazuddin and Neeraj Kabi?
Vijay was just out of FTII when I met him. I loved his eyes, right in my very first meeting with him. That was two years before I started shooting. But not everybody around was convinced about him. So, I must have auditioned him hundreds of time in those two years.
I worked with Nawaz before on my Short film, The Bypass, and in fact wrote the character with him in mind. Neeraj, I saw in another audition and sensed an energy that I thought he could pull it off!
Tell us about your background.
I was born in India, grew up in Africa, and came back to India. Drifted through hotels and Multi National Bank jobs before finding FTII, Pune. Right from childhood I thought I wanted to become a filmmaker, I just never knew how. So at one point, I quit my job with American Express and tried for Mass Comm. in Jamia. A bunch of us from Jamia then tried for FTII and I got through. I had to then leave American Express and the whole idea of a normal middle class existence.
Then I worked with Asif Kapadia and Florian Gallenberger on their features…then won the UKFC Cinema Extreme short film programme and got to make The Bypass. Then I got a development deal with the UKFC for Monsoon Shootout.
Who all have contributed to this journey?
There’s a World War 2 film that’s been brewing in my mind for a while. It’s my dream project. It’s called Give Me Blood and participated in NFDC Film Bazaar last year.