Amit Kumar, director of award-winning short The Bypass, talks about his debut feature Monsoon Shootout, produced by the UK’s Trevor Ingman.

Synopsis: A rookie cop faces a suspected gangster in a dead-end alley and has to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot. Three separate scenarios explore the impact of his decision on other people’s lives.

Writer/director: Amit Kumar

Producer: Trevor Ingman

Co-producers: Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga, Martijn De Grunt, Arun Rangachari, Shahnaab Alam

Executive producers: Asif Kapadia, Lee Stone

DoP: Rajeev Ravi

Cast: Vijay Varma, Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Neeraj Kabi, Geetanjali Thapa

Budget: $2m

Production companies: Yaffle Films (UK) co-produced by Anurag Kashyap Films (India), Pardesi Films (Netherlands), Dar Motion Pictures (India) in association with Arte France.

International sales: Fortissimo Films

Locations: Mumbai, Pune

Shooting dates: Sept-Dec 2011

Release plans: Now in post-production for a spring/summer 2012 launch

On the origins of the project:

The story originated many years back when I was studying at the Film Institute in Pune and saw a short film, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. It starts with a man being hanged and the whole film is an expansion of that one second between someone releasing the lever and him dying. It really hit me. For the first time I realised the potential of expanding just one second into a whole story. And I’d always had this visual of someone with a gun in the rain, not knowing whether to shoot or not to shoot. Somewhere along the line it became a story about a cop. The idea of the morality of killing is very important for me.

On the development process:

I pitched both Monsoon Shootout and The Bypass to Asif Kapadia while working with him on The Warrior and he went back to London and found out about the Cinema Extreme scheme and thought The Bypass would be good for that. I finally made The Bypass with Trevor [Ingman] producing, and it premiered at the Edinburgh film festival in 2003. The festival had a pitching contest, so I pitched Monsoon Shooutout, and was called to London to meet Jenny [Borgars] and Paul [Trijbits] at the UK Film Council. Jenny said she loved the project and took it on. So Trevor and I started developing it with the idea that the project would go from Jenny to Paul and then we’d make it. But the script took longer than we expected.

On working with the UK’s Yaffle Films:

I first met Trevor during the shoot of The Warrior, on which he was production supervisor and I was associate director, so when we needed a producer for The Bypass, Asif and I turned to him and, luckily for us, he agreed. After the wonderful journey of The Bypass, it was natural that we developed Monsoon Shootout with the UKFC through his company. The long journey to raise finance was never easy. We must have literally had hundreds of meetings in London, at the NFDC Film Bazaar in Goa and in Mumbai over a couple of years, trying to look for an Indian co-producer.

On the themes:

For me the morality of the film – or of life – is a very important part of the story. I want to make a film that people enjoy watching but at the same time I want to make something I believe in. We’re supposed to be civilised animals, but actually we’re not, we’re just animals, and it’s borderline that line of morality you may eventually cross. I’m justified in killing this guy because he’s Iraqi and I’m American, he’s Pakistani and I’m Indian, he’s a gangster and I’m a cop. Whatever reason you give, when you cross that line, you can’t claim to be a civilised human being. It’s important for all of us to think about the other guy – if I do this to him, what will happen to his family?

On working with the UK Film Council:

Jenny was very hands on during development of the project and I really enjoyed working with her. But by the time the script was finished script, Jenny and Paul had both left, so Emma Clarke at the New Cinema Fund picked it up again. She was very keen and really pushed it, but then of course the UKFC was shut down, so we had to go back and look at our budget to see if there was any other way to make it. We also had interest from the NFDC [India’s National Film Development Corporation]. So we said OK, we’ve got this money, we just have to reduce the budget and find the rest of the money.  

On finding new partners:

I always knew it was going to get made – I didn’t want to give up – a film like this is not the usual kind of film in India. And because it’s in Hindi and set in India, it’s not the usual kind of film for Europe either. So it was never going to be easy.

Then I bumped into Guneet Monga [producing partner of Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap] at a film party that a friend had dragged me to. I said we needed 50 lakhs [$100,000] and she said we’ll do it! She went back and discussed it with Anurag who already knew the project. They were in a position where they could get the funds and came on board.

I also gave the script to Mumbai Mantra’s creative head Minnie Vaid, who liked it, although they couldn’t finance without stars on board. But after leaving the fund, she introduced me to Martijn at Pardesi who was interested in working with India. He liked the script and just wanted to make sure the film would get a release in India. So the moment Anurag came on board, that completed that for him.

Trevor got Arte France on board and once Anurag Kashyap Films, Pardesi and DAR Media came on, it needed Trevor’s vast experience on international films to structure a co-production that combined the best of the two systems of film-making: the often chaotic, spontaneous, low-budget Indian system with the clockwork precision of the Western system. 

On the international elements:

Apart from the international financing structure – I spent my childhood in Africa and came to India as a teenager, so consider myself an outsider in certain ways. I think my sensibility has always been a bit different. I do see Bollywood movies I can enjoy, but I think I was attracted to a different kind of cinema. At first I was thinking of working in Indian TV, but saw a film by [French filmmaker] Leos Carax called Mauvais Sang that inspired me to join film school and make films instead. Then when I finished film school, I ended up working with people like Asif Kapadia and Florian Gallenberger and realised that these were the kind of films I wanted to make. It’s to do with the kind of story you’re allowed to tell and the kind of performance you try to get.

On the cast:

Vijay Varma, who plays the rookie cop Adi, also went to the Film Institute in Pune. When I first met him, there was a shine in his eyes, and I thought there was something about him that is amazing. Nawaz was in The Bypass and I knew I wanted to cast him as the suspected gangster, Shiva. I saw Neeraj Kabi when he came in for a reading of Gandhi Of The Month [upcoming Indian production starring Harvey Keitel] and thought he could play the bad cop. Tannishtha I’ve known a long time.

On future projects:

I have several ideas that I’m chasing up – one is a World War Two film that I’m writing with Asif, but I realise it’s bigger scale so might not be good for a second movie. It’s about the British and Indian army fighting the Japanese in Burma. I have another project set in the desert like The Bypass, The Desert Beyond, which is probably easier to do, about a mixed race couple who come to Rajasthan and their son gets lost. And the third option is to make The Bypass as a feature.