By Aditya Savnal. Posted on October 19, 2015
Director Kanu Behl’s Titli narrates the story of Titli (Shashank Arora) who hails from a family of violent men, and includes his brothers Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Pradeep (Amit Sial). Married off to Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), Titli finds an unlikely ally in her and together they attempt to escape this hellish world, an act that threatens them with grave repercussions.
The film which is produced by Dibakar Banerjee and Yash Raj Films, premiered at Cannes last year in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section. Besides this, the film was also screened to immense acclaim at several other international film festivals including at Beijing, Rotterdam, BFI London and Zurich.
Behl has co- written he film with Sharat Katariya who directed the delightful Dum Laga Ke Haisha earlier this year.
Behl is a pass out of the prestigious Satyajit Ray Film And Television Institute Kolkata (SRFTI) and started his filmmaking journey by making a short documentary for Arte France and feature docus for NHK Japan. Subsequently, he worked with Dibakar Banerjee on Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Love Sex Aur Dhokha for which he donned several roles including that of assistant director and writer.
He had also attended the Berlinale Talents in 2007 which led to him directing the documentary An Actor Prepares that was featured at the Cinema Du Reel in 2007.
We recently spoke to Behl about Titli, its making, the writing process, his association with Dibakar Banerjee and much more. Republished below are excerpts from the same.
I started writing the film in late 2011 and during that time I was writing another film. I was trying to get it made for more than a year and that was not happening. This experience made me reassess several things including my intent to make a film and that's where the seed of Titli came from.
Many of the inspirations and references for the script came from my own experiences and the troubled relationships I had faced in my life. And it was the easiest things to dive into. Later on, I co wrote the film with Sharat. We wrote several drafts which helped us to shape it into the film it is today. The intent was to tell a story through characters that were simple and expressive. It was based on the fact that a family forms the basis of every individual’s existence. And this is how the story evolved.
We wrote about 10-12 small drafts and in the process there were 4 major films that were written. In the first draft, we were trying to find the protagonist's voice and get his intentions and aspirations right. Often, most of us try to get too many things right in the first draft itself.
However Sharat and me made a conscious decision to avoid this. In the first half we were just trying to get Titli's character right. While writing drafts one also faces several issues with regards to the ending and culmination. My experience of writing scripts has taught me that it is okay to face problems, but what matters is to finish the draft, come what may.
The first draft of the film however began as a heist film, though later on we realized it was not shaping out to be what we actually wanted to do. While we were able to write Titli’s character properly from the first draft itself, the other characters seemed clichéd initially and evolved with the further drafts. It was necessary to understand that the characters were doing heists as they desperately needed money and because they are violent by nature. This understanding came through writing Vikram's (played by Ranvir Shorey) character, which helped us to understand the point of view of the other characters and shape them.
To get the actors into the groove, we did script reading sessions with them that helped them to get a sense of the scenes and the worlds they were supposed to inhabit. We also did workshops with them which included a mix of challenging physical and psychological exercises. The intent behind conducting these workshops was to get the actors to gel with each other and make them feel like a family and live the lives of their characters.
These workshops helped Ranvir to get out of his comfort zone and got a fresh performance out of him. Since Shivani was a non actor, these workshops helped her to work with other actors and harness her spontaneity into the performances.
Thanks to YRF’s reputation and immense goodwill, we got a strong production team and it helped us immensely as we had a crazy shooting schedule. A production team like this helped us to bring a semblance of order to the proceedings. The experience and credibility of Dibakar and Yashraj Films also ensured that I was in good hands. Probably that’s why I able to pull off this film.
Having worked with him on Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, we knew each other really well and also shared similar tastes in cinema.
Dibakar supported us peripherally throughout the making of the film. While we were shooting Titli, Dibakar was busy with Shanghai and trying to get Detective Byomkesh Bakshy in place. Yet he would find time to give his feedback and inputs on the script.
As this was my first film, I invested all my energy in it. Honestly I was surprised by the international reactions we received. I never expected it to go to Cannes and it came as a big surprise to us. People in places like Zurich walked up to us and told us how they loved it. The film is a deeply personal story, but has a humane and socio economic context that is universally identifiable. Perhaps this is why people from all over the world were able to connect to it.