By Dipankar Sarkar. Posted on April 04, 2016
Kanu Behl's debut film Titli (2015) - narrates the account of a family living in Delhi, whose callous world is brimming with patriarchal domination and latent aggression. This results in a galling drama where all characters are tinged with dark shades of human behavior.
These are people living on the margins of life and dreaming of some relief from their infernal existence. The film throbs with their life on the margins and the bitter reality of being trapped within the claustrophobic confinements of the narrow, grimy lanes of East Delhi.
The script of the film was written with by Behl and Sharat Katariya and was a part of NFDC Screenwriters Labs in the year 2013. The film was selected at the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
The film begins with Titli (Shashank Arora) who dreams of getting ownership of a car park in an upcoming mall near Delhi. He sees this as a way to get out of his current existence and be his own man rather being stuck with the three other good-for-nothing men in his life - his father and two elder brothers, who live by carjacking when not doing some odd jobs. However, due to an unfortunate turn of events the money ends up with the police.
The rest of the film is then about Titli's endeavor to claim his share of freedom under the sun. In the process he strikes up a deal with his wife Neelu, where marriage exposes him to a world that measures the worth of human emotions in terms of monetary benefits. He even lies to Neelu towards the end of the film to get his hands on the desired amount of money.
But when the final act of delivering the money arrives, he steps back. Rather than cheat his way out of his pathetic life, he decides to forego his dream. By doing so he goes against his family & upbringing & proves that it is possible to raise yourself, no matter what you station in life.
In the process of this transformation, money acts almost like a catalyst and brings forth three crucial changes in his life.
Firstly, on being caught by the police, it exposes Titli’s plot to escape from his family and gets him not only beaten but also results in his marriage.
Secondly Neelu's proposal, that involves money from her savings in the bank, gives Titli hope for escape.
And finally his decision to not part with the money provided by Neelu, is the crucible for his transformation.
Violence seems to be in the fabric of all the characters around whom the narrative structure of the film is woven. The film depicts the tale of a family of carjackers. Vikram, the eldest member of the family is the most violent character in the film. He takes a hammer to a car salesman’s head, smashing him to a pulp in the blink of an eye. He can beat up a furniture delivery man in order to vent out his refusal to accept the stubbornness of his wife Sangeeta .
Bawla (Amit Sial) is a pliant replica and a partner in crime of his elder brother. While their father (Lalit Behl) is the head of the family who shows his willfulness in accepting the ferocious behaviors of his grown up sons. In one particular scene when Vikram and Bawla are beating up the delivery man, he mimes the actions of his sons as partaking the pleasures of a brutal act. Titli being one of the eldest member of the family though seems to be a non-violent being, but responds to violent means whenever the deferential corner of his being has been pricked.
He doesn't hesitate to grab the collar of a police officer when he refuses to accept the theft of his money. He pounces upon Neelu when she refuses to accompany them in the robbery. He even doesn’t hesitate to call his father a pig, when the latter makes a false attempt to prove himself as a sitting duck of his elder son’s intemperate attitude.
Even the two women in the film - Neelu and Sangeeta display strains not in physical terms but in a rather emotive way. Neelu doesn't let Titli touch her body on the first wedding night. She even makes a brash display of affection with her lover Prince right under the nose of her husband. While Sangeeta doesn’t hesitate to ask a big compensation of money from Vikram during the divorce settlement.
Titli and Neelu come together in the form an odd couple who compromise with each other and benefit from the dubious thread of togetherness. On the first night of their wedding Neelu won’t allow Titli to initiate a conjugal relationship with her. Even Titli never wanted to force himself on her in order to satiate his sexual needs. Neelu tells Titli she wants a divorce, and that she has a secret lover.
Titli, still nursing dreams of escape and mall parking ownership, agrees to take her to see Prince for a fee to which Neelu readily agrees with. They conveniently make a business deal of a marriage with each trading their own ambitions and escape routes.
Titli and Neelu go to a Ford dealership to buy a Figo. The salesman sizes Titli up and realizes that he probably cannot afford this car. Titli says that he lives on the other side of the Yamuna, the wrong side of the tracks and the salesman picks up on this and humiliates him, not heeding his request for a test drive. Neelu comes to his rescue and confronts the salesman. In another scene from the film, Neelu allows her husband Titli to inject her with local anesthesia so that she loses any physical sensation. He tests her numbness by slapping her wrist again and again. Neelu mildly asks to wait in a mild protest. All such repugnant act of aversion takes place in an environment where the two characters seems to be trapped in their own ineluctable burrows.
But after all the betrayals meted out to the individuals, Titli double crosses his brothers and Prince caring least about Neelu emotions. Titli and Neelu dream about rebuilding their family and their relationship from the scratch.
Dipankar Sarkar is a graduate in film editing from the Film & Television Institute of India. He was selected in 2007 for the Talent Campus organised by the Osian Film Festival. He's currently working as an independent film and video editor.