Titli, co-written and directed by debutant filmmaker Kanu Behl, premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. Co-produced by Dibakar Banerjee and Aditya Chopra, the movie stars Ranvir Shorey, Shashank Arora, Amit Sial, and Shivani Raghuvanshi in major roles. Behl previously collaborated with filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee on projects like Oye Lucky! LuckyOye! (as an assistant director) and Love Sex aur Dhoka (as a screenwriter).
Titli is a daring film about losers. It's not common to make such a film, for everyone wants to hear about winners and not losers. Who would want to spend his/her time and money on watching a tale of losers and their drudgeries on the silver screen? But, what if it is revealed during a sequence of events unfolding in the late hours of the night that these losers are also a part of a nexus of carjackers, protected by the local police, operating in the dark and depraved underbelly of Delhi?
Titli revolves around a dysfunctional family of small-time criminals consisting of a manipulative father and three sons. The family's criminal activities are led by the eldest brother Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) who is well supported by the younger brother Pradeep (Amit Sial). Vikram's bane is his irascible and violent temper and it has led to his wife and kid leaving him. However, the youngest brother Titli (Shashank Arora) finds his brothers' actions repugnant and wants to live a respectable and an independent life far away from the clutches of his brothers.
Seeing Titli's unwillingness to assist them in their criminal outings, Pradeep convinces Vikram to arrange for Titli's marriage. The idea being that the responsibility of marriage would force Titli to take up the family business. Also, it would allow them to recruit in their gang Titli's wife, whom they would be able to use as bait, thereby improving their prospects as carjackers on the deserted roads in the outskirts of the capital during the night. Titli is a fine example of new age Hindi cinema which relies on honest storytelling as oppose to star power.
Titli is a warning, a harsh reminder of the naked realities of the world we inhabit. Renowned American novelist and playwright Cormac McCarthy has often highlighted in his works, like No Country for Old Men and The Counselor, the dichotomous aspect of our world wherein there is a clearly visible civilized world, governed by law and order, we think we have built for ourselves and the real world hiding behind its goody-goody façade where the law of the jungle holds true. The dark alleys in the outskirts of Delhi are for Behl what the Mexico-United States border is for McCarthy: a treacherous realm marked by anarchy and chaos. Navdeep Singh's NH10 deals with the same dichotomy.
Overall, Titli is a powerful work of cinema that jabs us in the small of our backs with the aim of dispelling our ignorance and apathy. The movie reminds us of the constant dangers that surround us and the helplessness of law to perpetually keep them at bay. Titli is not an easy film to watch and appreciate. Some sections of the film are deeply disturbing and require strong viewer discretion (there is one sequence in particular wherein Shorey's character opens up a man's forehead by repeatedly bashing it with a hammer). The movie's raw power and its brutally honest filmmaking style remind us of crime dramas like City of God (2002) and American History X (1998). Shashank Arora and Ranvir Shorey (easily his best performance since his remarkable turn in Rajat Kapoor's Mithya) are an absolute treat to watch as brothers of a dysfunctional family of small-time criminals. And barring the unsatisfactory and inconsistent third act denouement (a Bollywood-like ending intended to satisfy one and all), Titli proves to be a riveting cinematic experience.
A version of this review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.