Indian cinema’s changing face: Amit Kumar

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Director Amit Kumar’s debut film Monsoon Shootout opened to rave reviews at this year’s Cannes Midnight Screening. The bold noir tells the story about a rookie cop roughing it out on the tough streets of Mumbai. The film lived up to its Cannes buzz at the recently held London Indian Film Festival. Dhanya Nair catches up with Kumar and quizzes him about the changing face of Indian cinema.
AGI: First of all congrats for Monsoon Shootout. The film has earned a lot of positive reviews especially from Western critics. How does it feel to have your film headlining this year’s London Indian Film Festival?
AK: It definitely is a heart-warming feeling to know that the critics even in the western world have liked the film. I certainly wanted to showcase that there’s more to Indian cinema than Bollywood and that the art of film-making is changing. I also have a very strong connection with UK and London because many people from London have been a key part in the development of Monsoon Shootout. 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.
AGI: How was it working with your UK counterparts and what lessons have you learnt them?
AK: It was fantastic working with them. One of the key lessons, I’ve learnt is about systems and getting everything in place. It is not just about the need to do a great film with a great story but really become organised and disciplined. For instance, to be punctual a valuable lesson especially for Indians.

AGI: The idea for this film came after you watched (Robert Enrico’s Oscar-winning) An Occurrence at the Owl Creek Bridge. What kind of themes and ideas influence you?

AK: When I joined film school and watched this movie, it really drew me in completely.  I was so excited by the idea of one second in real life which has been expanded and that’s the power of cinema, you can play around with time. In real life, you cannot play around time. I was really up for the challenge of expanding time in my movie. Secondly, I take forever to take decisions. I tend to agonise about the consequences of each decision I make. I also think a lot about other people; how my decision would affect them. So, all these little details and questions led to Monsoon Shootout. It is about a cop who has to shoot somebody and is agonising over it.
AGI: What kind of films do you watch? Any favourite directors?
AK: I like every kind of films from science fiction to thrillers to art house cinema. Martin Scorsese is an all time favourite. In terms of influence, Ramesh Sippy (Sholay) really left a mark; the idea of telling a captivating story through cinema came from him.  In terms of my craft, I would say Asif Kapadia and a German director Florian Gallenberger are two from whom I have picked up the approach to cinema and performances. I also like contemporary Indian directors like Anurag Kashyap and Dibaker Banerjee.

AGI: Independent cinema is garnering a lot of attention not just in India but globally too but commercial Bollywood cinema is still very dominant in India. How do you the Indian cinema will shape in the coming years?
AK: I think it will be a bit naïve to think that independent cinema will completely take over Bollywood but to be fair even in Bollywood a lot of different things are happening. There’s a lot more scope of experiment now. Films like Vicky Donor proved that much. What is heartening to see is that now independent Indian films are playing in festivals around the world. So, potential partners from different markets can see the talent that exists in India and there’s a real opportunity for the two to meet.

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