review monsoon shootout

“Midnight screening” – these are two words associated with high-octane, fast-thrills entertainment, the sort of movie you might check out after imbibing a few (or more than a few) pints and heading to your local cinema. The Cannes Film Festival is no different, and their small strand of Midnight Screenings are typically reserved for anticipated, exotic movies that nevertheless would not sit pretty in the main branches of the fest. Monsoon Shootout might by title alone sound like a worthy addition to that canon, though writer-director Amit Kamur‘s first turn behind the steering wheel proves wildly unsatisfying and technically slapdash.

In downtown Mumbai, a serial killer known as The Axe Man, real name Shiva (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is running rampant, carrying out hits for his boss, known only as the Slum Lord. Rookie cop Adi (Vijay Varma) is one day faced with taking Shiva down, though the choices he can make – to wound, kill or arrest the perp – have wildly varying consequences, as we learn over the course of the film.

After a promising, energetic action scene kicks the film off, it’s time to settle rather regrettably into drama mode, given that the film’s central gimmick hinges around replaying the same brief standoff sequence three-times, in which Adi has Shiva in his sights and has to choose whether and where to fire. It’s safe to say that, as far as titles go, Monsoon Shootout is one of the more poorly thought-out – or perhaps most crassly cynical – in recent memory, given that there’s really very little shooting in it (though, to be fair, lots of rain).

This is a movie seemingly keenly awash in just about every police procedural trope going, namely the juxtaposition of the pessimistic, over-the-hill cop, Khan (Neeraj Kabi), with the young, naive up-and-comer Adi. Compounding this, there’s also the obligatory love interest in the form of Anu (played by an utterly luminous Geetanjali Thapa), who helps the film transition into its Sliding Doors and/or Run Lola Run mode, in which each slightly different gunshot Adi decides to take (or not take) at Shiva results in a markedly different romantic outcome. The gimmick isn’t used to say much about the new context, however, at least not in a way that’s remotely interesting; some things don’t change, some do – so what? This has been done much better before.

What really sinks the film, though, is the offputtingly sterile treatment of the material on the whole; shot coverage is hit-and-miss, while editing only sometimes fuses these shots together coherently, often resulting in complete spatial senselessness. Most irritating, however, is the decision to edit around the gory action, showing off only the occasional fleck of blood; for a film with a title like this (and featuring a scene in which a severed head is discovered), a 12A-style treatment really isn’t acceptable. Moreover, with it being shown under the festival’s Midnight Screening banner, which revels in lurid gratuity (last year they showed Alejandre Aja’s superb Maniac remake, for instance), its neutered approach is going to make audiences feel short-changed.

On the plus side, individual shots are generally well-lensed, and punchy sound effects do hammer some of the impactful action home, while the romantic elements do occasionally come together somewhat well, before, inevitably, it all succumbs to cheese (largely by way of risible romantic Indian pop music). The ending might strike some viewers off-guard, though the strain for emotional resonance at pic’s close is just that – a strain – because we are not adequately invested in Adi’s plight or even really his safety.

An unkempt mix of romantic pre-destination in the vein of Slumdog Millionaire and the swinging pendulums of fate reminiscent of both the aforementioned fate-based romantic thrillers, here’s an action film that talks the talk, but sadly doesn’t even try to walk the walk. It amounts to little more than a fecklessly bloodless gimmick thriller.

The Upside: Nicely photographed; boasts decent enough lead performances, specifically the presence of Thapa as Adi’s beau; sound editing is also strikingly effective

The Downside: Aspirations towards existentialism don’t pay off well because it lazily recycles some grand ideas, but without the same level of ingenuity and entertainment value; atrocious editing stifles the action beats, which are themselves too sparse and brief to satisfy

On the Side: DP Rajeev Ravi also shot the highly-acclaimed Indian film Gangs of Wasseypur.

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