SAIFF Review: Monsoon Shootout


Sometimes a movie in an established genre takes an idea from another genre and implements it, completely subverting any expectations. It’s not that the genre changes, necessarily, so much as the context. A story that initially seemed pretty typical suddenly opens up to some new and exciting places. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s pretty awesome.

Monsoon Shootouts adds parallel timelines to a noir thriller. It’s mostly successful.

[For the next week, we will be covering the South Asian International Film Festival, taking place in New York City from December 3rd through the 7th. You can find out more information here, and keep track of all of our coverage here.]

Monsoon Shootout
Director: Amit Kumar
Rating: NR
Country: India 

Adi (Vijay Varma) is a recruit new to a corrupt police department. Unlike his superior, Khan (Neeraj Kabi), he wants to follow due process and the rule of law. After a stakeout gone wrong during a rainstorm, he and Khan find themselves in a shootout. But the person who they believe to be their target, an axe murderer named Shiva, runs and Adi gives chase. At a dead end, the man (who is, in fact, the killer) apparently unarmed man who may or may not be a violent murderer. He calls out, the man turns, and then Adi has a choice to make: should he shoot? There are three paths: right, wrong, and middle, none of which will be perfect but some of which will be better than others.  After an assault on him and a friend, it returns to the storm and Adi once again has to make the choice. It’s like an Indian Run Lola Run, but a lot less crazy.

While it’s a somewhat silly conceit, it’s not played for laughs. There’s nothing funny about Monsoon Shootout, so if you’re expecting some kind of crazy guns-blazing action film, you’ll be disappointed. (I know I was.) To its credit, the film is not called Monsoon Shootouts, so maybe that’s on me, but there are only a couple of shootouts in the film, and they are all short and relatively lackluster. In what I can only assume is a failure of editing, muzzle flashes don’t appear to come from the guns, rather beginning slightly above them. And sometimes shots are fired with no muzzle flashes at all, which makes it seem like the film was rushed. But the sound of the gunfire is the most off-putting part. Shots are quiet. In the midst of a rainstorm, it would make sense that the sound of the guns is muffled, but that doesn’t apply to the almost-identical sounds during calmer weather.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I had a similar issue with the quiet violence in Rough Cut, and I attributed that in part to being accustomed to the ridiculously loud gunshots and foley work found in American films. Perhaps that’s true here as well, but when the gunshot that defines everything that comes next sounds more like a firecracker than a handgun, it sours the moment just a bit.

Monsoon Shootout

But the narrative built up around the lackluster gunplay is interesting. Each version of the story brings out something new in both the characters and the story. I liked Adi’s development for the most part, although his transformation in the third version comes a bit too quickly, and the rest of the characters made for a pleasantly varied ensemble: there’s the drug lord, the prostitute, the corrupt politician, the college friend who came back to India for unknown reasons, and several others besides. Yes, most of them fall on the seedy side of humanity, but that’s where the story takes place, so it’s hard to fault that decision.

Monsoon Shootout’s biggest failure is its decision to focus on one choice when it could have focused on so many. I don’t actually want to see a 5-hour cut that delves into the consequences of each and every decision he could have made, but some of the choices were every bit as significant as “Should he shoot?” For them to only play out one way when he definitely could have done differently—better—is frustrating.

In the second timeline, there is a moment where Adi makes the wrong decision, neglecting to keep looking for something that he found in the first timeline, and the ignorance radically shifts his view of the shooting. Had he not given up, the second timeline would undoubtedly have been the “right” one (and I would argue that it still is). There, it wasn’t the choice to shoot that defined the outcome, it was a failure during his follow-up. Bloodshed was minimized, even if it was unfortunate, and the main problem is Adi’s emotions, which don’t really factor into any of the other timelines. And not all of the important plot points are wrapped up in any given timeline, most notably his relationship with the aforementioned friend. While the first and third stories explain what happens to them, the second drops it without conclusion. All of them could have been extended in bits and pieces without making the film drag too much, but that omission seemed particularly notable.

Monsoon Shootout

Unfortunately, the ending threatens to unravel the whole thing, damning the very idea of choice. It creates a canon for a narrative that shouldn’t have one. For the majority of the Monsoon Shootout, it seems like things will be left up to the viewer, letting them internally debating which timeline was right, which was wrong, and which was middle, but instead the conclusion completely throws it away. It’s a surprising ending for sure, especially since it doesn’t seem to fit with the events that led up to it, but then again, what came before really doesn’t matter. It seems like a cop-out, a way to wrap things up without having to finish any given story. But the reality is that none of the stories needed to be finished. A cut to black, excising the final scene entirely, would have allowed for an ending that was in line with those from the first two stories. But the more I think about the final scene, the less it makes sense and the less significant it makes everything that came before.

Which is too bad, because for the most part I liked what Monsoon Shootout was doing. Choice is a fascinating subject matter, and this is a unique way to really dig into the impact it can have on a situation. Adi’s decision has a ripple effect that, no matter what he chooses, ends in multiple deaths, and not necessarily of the man he’s pointing the gun at. He’s under a lot of pressure, and that initial hesitation to shoot is understandable. But he shouldn’t have called out and hesitated. He should have acted. That hesitation, that moment of thought, is his ultimate downfall.

The ultimate lesson of Monsoon Shootout: shoot first, ask questions later.