Kanu Behl’s Titli is a relentlessly dark, gut-wrenching view of the NCR underbelly where security guards cannot secure us, the police don’t want to secure us and we ourselves are not beyond making someone else insecure for something extra. The malls, the real estate deals, the swanky cars, the plush colonies and various slippery characters populate the landscape of Titli and all of them are distressingly real.
Behl was Dibakar Banerjee’s assistant on two quintessentially NCR films – Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha – and his sharp perception of modern life in the metropolis is evident throughout. In recent times, several films – NH10 and Aurangzeb immediately come to mind – have gone beyond the romance of Dilli and ventured into the places where malls and democracy both end. Dibakar Banerjee’s two early films – Khosla Ka Ghosla and OLLO – were satirical and therefore, had a lightness of touch. His next – LSD – was quite brutal in its indictment of the mindset of the nation’s capital.
Titli is also a similar film in that respect. It is not a Delhi film, it is an NCR film. From the unfinished constructions that give hope of a better tomorrow to the crippling financial investment that is required to secure that tomorrow, Titli has it all.
The story of a family of three car-jacking brothers and the efforts of the youngest (Titli, played by Shashank Arora) to escape a life of crime is an exact antithesis of the wholesome family values Bollywood is famous for portraying, institutionalized by the producers, Yash Raj Films. The film’s tagline is “Har family family nahin hoti” and the film manages to pack in pretty much every dysfunctional trait one can think of.
Which brings me to – what I felt – was an issue with the film. As someone (was it @bethlovesbolly?) pointed out on Twitter that after a point, it seemed that one had to guess which unforeseen but completely realistic calamity would befall the family next. Like really, how many skulls must be hammered in before we can seek salvation? In a way, Titli is an anti-KJo film – a minefield of dystopian <can’t think of an alliterative synonym for ‘blasts’>.
Nevertheless, it is a strong debut for Kanu Behl and makes one look forward to his next. Incidentally, it is titled Agra and about a call-centre agent in love with a girl while no one is convinced she really exists. Yeah, expect more from the Republic of Dystopia!
[Frivolous Footnote: The role of the father in Titli was played by Lalit Behl, director Kanu’s father – an interesting case of which the only precedent I could think of was Raj directing Prithviraj Kapoor (Awara) and Randhir directing Raj (Kal Aaj Aur Kal). Anyone else?]