Adi (Vijay Varma), a rookie policeman with a strong moral code enters the Mumbai Crime Branch, shocked to find the police have no qualms in shooting criminals before asking questions. When he chases suspected hitman Shiva (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to an alley’s dead end, Adi is faced with the ultimate decision – to shoot or not to shoot? Is there a third option? These different choices lead to three different versions of how the film plays out, resonating with Adi’s late father’s truism on the three paths of life: “the right path, the wrong path and the middle path.”
Taking inspiration from Sliding Doors, but more importantly the lesser-known multi-award winning German flick Run Lola Run, this is the first film to hit Indian Cinema with the audacity to play with the multiple outcome storytelling device. Sliding Doors explores how love may happen by chance as equally as it can by destiny. Run Lola Run makes a debate of free will versus fate. Monsoon Shootout meanwhile demonstrates that no matter what you do, the corrupt judicial system of India will get you. It’s not at as universal a message as its inspirations, nor as new – the world of the corrupt police force has been visited countless times before. What the film is then pushed to rely on is its three individual stories, which should individually stand upon their own merits.
Without revealing too many spoilers, it can be said that the first story does not carry itself as strongly as the others, painting both hero and villain one-dimensionally and not giving us much to work with. The latter stories fare much better with unexpected twists and well-directed action scenes, but the weakness in characterisation is still very much apparent. There are hints of the good family man in Shiva, and slight insights into the darkness consuming Adi, but it would have been wiser to see more gradual transitions, rather than have single scenes that feel like a good-bad on-off switch.
The script is well written, especially with writer Amit Kumar setting himself the challenge to include all characters in all three stories. Admittedly, there are plotholes - Would you really be chummy with a person who just tried to kill you? Why is a film with a villain named “The Axe Man” and a few action scenes of rain called “Monsoon Shootout”? But it functions aptly as a thriller, delivering a good dose of thrills and suspense. The cinematography by DOP Rajiv Ravi (who also did a great job on Gangs of Wasseypur) is also terrific, wonderfully capturing the Mumbai slums without resorting to poverty porn.
Overall there are fantastic performances by indie stalwarts Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannishtha Chatterjee who plays Shiva’s long-suffering wife. Special mention should also go to the young Farhan Mohammad Hanif Shaikh, who brings a great intensity to Shiva’s misguided son. Unfortunately, newcomer lead Vijay Varma doesn’t fare so well in bringing the true emotional frustration and anger a character like Adi would go through.
Despite its misgivings, this was a promising start to Amit Kumar’s career in Indian Cinema. Admittedly using a device uninspired to seasoned cinephiles, its good to see new Indian filmmakers taking more risks with their storytelling. It just would have been good to see more depth to the characters. And possibly a change of title.
Monsoon Shootout opened the London Indian Film Festival, 18-25 July 2013. Tickets are available to purchase from the LIFF website. Stay tuned to The NRI for news, reviews and interviews.