I had no idea what to expect from Monsoon Shootout - I did not recognise the director, didn't look through the cast, and the festival website merely described this as a shooting-filled policewallahs vs goons type of story, essentially nothing new under the sun. I hadn't heard it had been praised in Cannes, I hadn't even heard it had been to Cannes, and I certainly didn't expect what is surely one of the best off-beat films of the year.
Amit Kumar (son of Kishore, incidentally) directs the story of rookie cop Adi (Vijay Varma in a confident performance), entering the police force, only to encounter deeply corrupt, inhumane police misbehaviour on his first day on the job. Khan (Neeraj Kabi), his superior, is more or less a crook in a uniform - willing to go to any length necessary, where Adi wants to stick to doing things the right way. Quickly he finds himself in pursuit of a suspect, Shiva (Nawazuddin Siddiqui - I gasped in anticipation the moment I recognized him), and has to make a decision, soaked in the monsoon rain - to shoot or not to shoot.
As the narrative starts to go through every possibly scenario, it does a rather remarkable thing of fooling its audience. Even as I knew that the scene I was watching was just a "what if", I was engaged with the story. I was living through it. I was inside this world of slum-dwellers and morally corrupt policemen, of questionable guilt and innocence.
The film is currently doing rounds in the festival circuit, but when it finally gets a proper release in India, I bet it'll make many people's "Best of 2013" lists. As with many stories, the setting and the beginning are nothing new - there have been countless films where cops are as bad as the criminals they're trying to catch, and where politicians conspire with gangsters in an urban setting. But the different take on these themes in this setting, and the excellent acting makes Monsoon Shootout completely worth it.