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‘Monsoon Shootout’ film review: One moment and several endings in a clever morality game

Amit Kumar’s debut feature stars Vijay Varma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Neeraj Kabi.

Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout provides a kaleidoscopic view of morality through a simple device: the same event is viewed many times over, with different histories and outcomes, each one telling us something new about the characters.

Some elements are common in the cold and efficient Mumbai-set movie: a businessman is shot to bits; rookie policeman Adi (Vijay Varma) aims a loaded gun on the possible killer Shiva (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) during a downpour; Adi’s girlfriend Anu (Geetanjali Thapa) waits for him in a church; a young boy seethes with rage at his father’s death; a wife grieves.

Each reset of the clock locks Adi and Shiva in a confrontation, suggesting that this battle between the primal forces of good and evil is timeless and will never stop. The same lines of dialogue ricochet through the different set-ups, acquiring different meaning each time.

Amit Kumar’s heavily delayed debut isn’t merely a tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal Rashomon (1950), a meditation on subjectivity and the impossibility of an absolute truth through the trial of a possible murderer and rapist. Kumar, who made the acclaimed short The Bypass (2003) is also playing with the numerous possibilities offered by screenwriting. What if the middle portion were to be moved a few notches up? What if Shiva were to be a victim of a mistaken identity? What if Adi’s boss Khan (Neeraj Kabi) wasn’t corrupt and compromised but as world-weary and pragmatic?

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Monsoon Shootout.

The fabled Mumbai rains patter away throughout the lever changing, resulting in vividly lit and lensed images (the cinematography is by Rajeev Ravi) and allowing each of the narrative tracks to be metaphorically washed away with every new shift. Mumbai emerges as a hard-bitten character in this classic hardboiled story – a city filled with opportunists, punters, hustlers, and a few pure souls. The most angelic heart in the crime-and-redemption saga belongs to Geetanjali Thapa’s Anu, who is the only one untouched by the corruption that seethes around her.

As a writing exercise, Monsoon Shootout is tricksy fun, with each of the different tracks allowing the actors to hit different levels of performance. Vijay Varma is a convincing greenhorn, his ruddy face and keen eyes conveying his hunger to do the right thing, whatever it is. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is characteristically sinister, and Sreejita De turns out a lovely performance as a low-life prostitute who plays a key role in rewriting the course of events.

Amidst the numerous what-ifs, there is one constant: Adi is pure at heart, and merely wants to do his job and follow in the footsteps of his late policeman father. For all its metaness, Monsoon Shootout turns out to be a pleasingly old-fashioned crime drama about police officers trying to fit into a broken system and criminals trying to make a living on the margins.

The bigger and more abstract idea – morality changes depending on the point of view – gets a bit lost in the efforts taken to ensure that each of the tracks is separate from one another as well as coherence. Yet, the movie works perfectly as a neo-noir thriller set in a city where nothing goes according to plan. One moment has several scenarios in Monsoon Shootout, but the outcome – smart writing and direction – remains the same throughout.

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