“Monsoon Shootout”… A skillfully made drama with noir shadings that could have used more existential heft

Posted on December 19, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout played at Cannes a few years ago, and the opening scenes  seem to give off that slumdog, “This is India” vibe so beloved to some foreign audiences. As a blind beggar navigates a narrow street, a Merc is stalled by a bullock cart — the two ends of India, in one tight frame. A little away, a bunch of young men form a pyramid to get at the dahi handi. But all of this isn’t mere tourist-trap exotica. It’s scene-setting for the noir-ish tale that follows, which unfolds in such darkness (literal and metaphorical) that you’re grateful for these opening moments of colour and light. The man in the Merc — a builder — is bumped off. The story takes off.

We meet sub-inspector Adi (Vijay Varma, eager-eyed in a way only an idealist can be), heading out of his home in a chawl to his first day at work. His mother advises him to be mindful of the options before him: the right way, the wrong way, and the in-between path. But his superior, Khan (a wonderfully dry Neeraj Kabi), is more practical. When he sees Adi dithering over which gun to pick from a bag, he snaps, “Itna socho mat.” He’d probably agree with the air-force protagonist of Kaatru Veliyidai, who said his job was not to worry whether the enemy was innocent or not, but to expedite the meeting between the man and his maker. In this profession, this philosophy makes sense. You don’t want to be paralysed with indecision, wondering about the right way and the wrong way, during a showdown with a criminal. But if Adi thought like Khan, there’d be no movie.

And we get to the shootout of the title. It’s not the clean action we see in films. It’s complete chaos. It’s night. It’s pouring. People hear shots and begin to scatter in panic. The target is a thug named Shiva (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Adi gives chase, and corners Shiva as he’s about to clear a compound wall. He raises his gun. He hesitates. Shiva escapes. The man goes on to threaten a builder, kill, slap his wife, and throw acid on a pretty woman. In other words, we appear to be in the realm of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, where a rookie cop allows a criminal to escape and watches helplessly as the latter’s crimes mount.

But Monsoon Shootout has other ideas. A little later, we return to the bit where Adi corners Shiva — and this time, he does something different. The film is a series of what-ifs, each decision by Adi setting off a chain of (different) events involving the same set of characters: Shiva, Shiva’s wife (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and young son, Shiva’s sex-worker mistress (Sreejita De), Khan, and, of course, Adi, who keeps staring into mirrors, trying to find out what kind of man he is, which of his mother’s options he’s going to take. More questions: What if the killing begets another killer? What if innocents are hurt? Rajeev Ravi shoots Adi’s police work in the dim neon from streetlights, and contrasts this with the warm glow of candles in a church, where Anu (Geetanjali Thapa) waits for Adi. It isn’t just a date. It’s practically salvation.

Monsoon Shootout was a little too low-key for my taste — it isn’t quite as existential as I’d have liked, and the butter-smooth filmmaking could have used more rough edges. But there’s still a lot of skill on display, not least from Nawazuddin Siddiqui. This is a pre-fame performance (the film was made a while ago), and you can sense him weighing how much to play to the gallery, how much to interiorise. Acting, after all, is another line of work that involves the right way, the wrong way, and the in-between path.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi