Cannes: Director Amit Kumar on the State of Indian Cinema and His Next Project (Q&A)
Amit Kumar graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India after participating in the Femis Film School workshop in Paris. His student film, Judgment Day, brought him a Chicago Artists International Program grant.
Kumar worked with BAFTA-winning British director Asif Kapadia (Senna) as associate director on his 2001 feature The Warrior, starring Irrfan Khan. Kumar collaborated again with Kapadia in 2007 on the Michelle Yeoh-starrer Far North. In between, Kumar also worked on Oscar-winning German director Florian Gallenberger's 2004 feature Shadows of Time, which was set in India.
Kumar debuted with his acclaimed 2003 short The Bypass, which picked up various awards, including a BAFTA for best short film. His feature debut Monsoon Shootout took almost a decade to get off the ground as the script did the rounds until it caught the eye of acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap. Support also came from various quarters - from his family to Kapadia (who is a co-producer). The project finally came to light as an Indo-U.K./European co-production with Kashyap's producer-partner Guneet Monga backing it via her banner Sikhya Entertainment.
Kumar shared his journey with THR and reflected on how Indian independent cinema is finally shaping its own identity.
THR: Monsoon Shootout takes multiple views of a single premise, perhaps a reference to the 1950 crime drama Rashomon, which is about a crime that is recalled from different points of view?
Kumar: It is kind of like that, but not directly Rashomon. The idea is to revisit an event – to expand time. I was first inspired by this concept when, as a student at the Film and Television Insitute of India (FTII), I saw the short film An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. Monsoon Shootout is about the few seconds it takes a cop to decide whether or not to shoot a gangster. It is about expanding that concept of time by looking at what is going on in his mind. The lead role of the policeman is played by Vijay Varma who I met three years ago as an acting graduate out of the FTII. The other main role of the gangster is played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui (who also stars in another Cannes entry The Lunchbox).
THR: It took you almost a decade to put together Monsoon Shootout. How did it all start?
Kumar: I debuted with my 2003 short film The Bypass, which participated in a competition organized by the U.K. Film Council and FilmFour. Soon after that, I pitched Monsoon Shootout to the UKFC - they liked it and developed it with (The Bypass) producer Trevor Ingman. That took a couple of years and the project moved to the new cinema fund by the UKFC. But then the UKFC shut down. So by 2008 we started to raise funding which took us another two years. Trevor got France's Arte on board, and then Dutch producer Martijn de Grunt joined the project.
We needed a proper Indian co-producer, and I met Guneet Monga (who heads her banner Sikhya Entertainment and acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap's AKFPL). Anurag knew about the project as well. (U.K.-based Senna director) Asif Kapadia is a very old friend, and I worked with him on his films The Warrior and Far North. In fact, he had made me submit The Bypass to the U.K. competition. He boarded Monsoon Shootout as an executive producer and has been a good guiding force and also helped in the script.
The creative process can be taxing – you don't know which is the right direction to take. In that, my wife Anupama, a trained writer/director from FTII, was a great bouncing board and gave me direction. I was also lucky to have a lot of support from my family. My brother said don't worry about personal financial issues - just do your thing. And of course, Anurag and Guneet were amazing in all the support they gave for the project.
Eventually, we managed to pull together a total budget of about $2 million. We filmed it in 2010 and don't ask me why it has taken so long in post. We cut it once, and then Asif said I should be his editor in the U.K. and we made it sharper. But everything finally fell into place and we are now ready to share the final product.
THR: How does it feel to be in the Midnight Screenings program at Cannes where the other film is Johnny To's Blind Detective?
Kumar: I am excited. At least, Monsoon Shootout is considered gripping enough to be in this program. And Johnny is a legend in Hong Kong cinema. I am enjoying every moment of it.
THR: Do you think independent Indian cinema is finally making its presence felt?
Kumar: I think it is a great thing. These kind of films could not have happened earlier. When I did The Bypass, it was tough to pitch Monsoon Shootout. But the scenario has changed and people can pitch anything today, even if it is outrageous. Though its still not easy - it took me a really long time to get Monsoon Shootout going. But now when I pitch my next film, at least there will be more people willing to listen to me compared to the past.
THR: So for your next project perhaps you can be more edgy?
Kumar: I don't know about being edgy, but I have a dream project, which is set in WW II called Give Me Blood. It is based on real incidents mixed with some of my ideas. It is going to be big-scale - fighting Rommel in North Africa, then coming back to India and Burma. I would still like to do it in my way, which means it is not going to be easy to get it off the ground. I am glad Monsoon Shootout has given me a launching pad - at least people will listen to me, whether or not they give me the money. At Cannes I hope to attract interest for this project.