The rising visibility of Indian indies has indicated rapid changes in style and content and this year, Kanu Behl’s impressive crime thriller ‘Titli’ now defines this form as mainstream.
Producer Dibakar Banerjee is supported by Bollywood distributor-exhibitor Yash Raj Films in this project which opened at Cannes earlier this year.
A car-jacking gang in Delhi apparently inspired Behl to write this thriller story which later also becomes a narrative of rebellion against patriarchal authority and family dysfunction.
Titli, the youngest member of the gang, struggles to escape the illegal business and his authoritative brother (Ranvir Shorey).
His brothers force him into marriage but the new bride Neelu surprisingly makes a deal with him to break free from the oppressive family.
Set within the confined spaces of a criminal family, the film moves assuredly in this dark world of corruption and gender violence.
The city in this noir film, barely conceals violence under the surface.
The tension between the tyrannical father, brutish brother and Titli is sustained through a plot of betrayals amidst cutthroats and dishonest businessmen.
Writer director Kanu Behl started work on the script while assisting Dibakar Banerjee on Love, Sex and Dhoka.
Selected by the NFDC Film Bazaar’s Screenwriter’s Lab Titli won the post-production award at Film Bazaar Work in Progress Lab.
It was viewed by the Cannes screening committee and was selected in Un Certain Regard for 2014.
Newcomers Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi were selected for the lead roles as Behl wanted fresh approaches to the parts.
Shot in run-down neighbourhoods of Delhi, most of the drama is in a cramped family home from which the protagonist wishes to escape.
Grainy images in Super 16 (Siddharth Diwan), labyrinthine spaces, hazy tube lights, absence of real light, create a claustrophobic space within which actors improvise without a ready script.
Behl and co-scripter Katariya explore power, control, simmering anger in relationships so violence is not merely physical but psychological.
Fleshed out characters emerge in fascinating layers of complexity and surprises. The calm observant father (Behl’s father Lalit Behl) who is the actual controlling force, belligerent Vikram (Shorey) tyrannising his wife, Neelu shifting from reluctant wife to flirtatious lover, the protagonist embroiled in violence even as he wishes to escape it.
Following a theme with several festival entries from world cinema, Titli offers an universal spirit of ordinary people struggling against their oppressive worlds to find release.
Watch Behl talk to the UKAsian during this year’s London Film Festival discussing’Titli’, fathers and sons and being an independent filmmaker in India today.