Cast: Shashank Arora, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Lalit Behl, Prashant Singh, Shivani Raghuvanshi
Director: Kanu Behl
If you are familiar with the noxious, dark underbelly of Delhi, director Kanu Behl’s Titli hits you in the guts right from the first frame. Because it is about a world that co-exists right in our midst, a world so lowly that we ignore but never forget while driving back home in the still of the night. Even if you haven’t been to any such place in the capital, or encountered the people who inhabit these crowded bylanes, the fact is that Titli could be about any city, and its people. All you need to do is change the actors as per your ethnic and regional requirements for this tailor-made story of stark class difference in urban districts.
Titli (Shashank Arora) is the youngest in a family of poor car-jackers who live in the outskirts of Delhi. These bylanes are occupied by people who’re oscillating between the idea of a better life and their ruined present. Titli’s elder brothers, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Bawla (Amit Sial) are emotionally traumatised, drifting from one day to the other, without any concrete plan for their future. It’s this oppressed section of the society which is untouchable for the growing ‘corporate’ India. The brothers, and their father (Lalit Behl), make ends meet with whatever they earn from petty road robberies (they call it ‘gasht’).
One day, the brothers decide to marry off Titli just so that they have a female member in their gang who could help them trap their victims more easily. The bride, Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), refuses to be a part of any crime. Instead, she has her own dreams, and expects Titli to help her fulfil them. But, will this be possible in a densely populated street whose sunlight has been blocked by nearby skyscrapers?
Titli grips you in a weird way. You recognise these characters: They could have studied with you in college, sold you second-hand motorcycle parts... even threatened you with a baseball bat when you bumped into their scooter at a traffic signal. The close ups of this dysfunctional family disturb as these give you an insight into a world far from shining showrooms and international food joints. The magical effect of Super 16 film format introduces you to the inner world of these otherwise lonely, hopeless, misguided and tyrant men. Siddharth Diwan’s photography brings to the fore the backward velocity of the people living under the false pretension of a metropolitan life.
Writers Sharat Katariya and Kanu Behl don’t keep you at an objective distance. They challenge you to stop ignoring the so-called social blots, and once you’re sucked in, they make you believe that the injustice behind the rough exterior is systematic. It could be anything from the patriarchal mindset to the hurried urbanisation, or maybe it’s a mixture of both and many more twisted theories. The language, lifestyle and aspirations of these people living beside a gutter prompt a lot of Dilliwaallaahs to deny their existence despite knowing that it’s actually the ‘civilised’ world which is contributing to pushing them over the edge.
One scene from Titli will haunt you for long: Bawla staring at women employees inside a parlour attending to their male customers. The scene is striking because this man could be anyone around us -- from the migrant to the garage worker -- who feels stifled in a big city, seething with anger at the injustice life’s meted out to him. It could be a snake-pit, or a volcano on the verge of eruption. The truth is that none of these people on the margins of life are dreaming of owning a palace ever. All that they want is some respite from being tossed around by the world around them. Guess what does Titli dream of? He wants to own a car parking business!
A world beyond right and wrong, it’s a quest for a dignified life. Vikram keeps eating even if his father coughs his lungs out. Bawla cries while Titli listens to it with indifferent expressions. Vikram’s estranged wife threatens him with a lawsuit and he silently sobs. In absence of any form of solitude, they have learnt to deal with their individual pains by inflicting the same on others, sometimes through words, and mostly through slaps.
Titli review: This engrossing thriller gives a reality check
If Neelu is a victim, so are the others. Their tenderness turns into a mindless tough exterior in no time. However, you get engulfed with so much melancholy just five scenes into the film, you want some hope to seep in, and it only gets even more realistic. Titli’s screenplay is so amazingly crafted that it grips you by the collar, and makes you live all that is happening on the screen.
No, Titli doesn’t frighten you. It doesn’t make you privy to some private conversations either. Instead, it pushes you out of slumber and makes you see the after-effects of a waywardly classic liberal economy.
Ranvir Shorey as Vikram has given the best performance of his life, but the real show-stealer is Shashank Arora as the glum, disinterested Titli. His morose face is the entry point of depression. He is every bit a wretched youngster whose dreams are crushed under a pile of violent developments. Amit Sial is perfect for a character that is as miserable as a butterfly circling a lamp. Shivani Raghuvanshi has an ideal face for Neelu’s character, and she has done justice to it.
Kanu Behl’s Titli is the most impressive film of this year so far. Its tryst with reality will keep you hooked till the end, to say the least. Titli is the latest gem from evolving Indian cinema. Don’t even think of missing it.
(Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/ @nawabjha)