By Ishan Marvel for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Dibakar Banerjee is back to doing what he’s best at: bringing us films that scream Delhi in each frame. However, this time the man at the helm is Banerjee’s assistant director and co-writer for ‘LSD’ (2010), Kanu Behl—and the difference is stark. The quirky, manic denizens and the swagger of the city are there, but without the deliberate comic bent and stylisations of Banerjee’s ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ (2006) or ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’ (2008). Therein, Behl has gone one up on his mentor—for in spite of his sheer brilliance and the revolutionising catalyst that Banerjee, along with the likes of Anurag Kashyap, brings to mainstream Hindi cinema, he, in the end, makes Bollywood films (which I’m not saying is necessarily a bad thing). Titli is different—beautiful and honest without overtly trying to pursue the ‘breathtaking’, the ‘brutal’, or the funny. A film as real and effortless as a jaded, middle-aged prostitute at a G.B. Road kotha, humorous without meaning to, and dark, terribly dark, like her much-abused orifice.
It begins with a shot of the back of the head of the titular character, Titli—the youngest son in a down-and-out-dysfunctional family from ‘Jamuna-paar’, consisting of three brothers and a father, and who was named so because his deceased mother wanted a daughter, perhaps to counter the destructive masculinity running amok within the family. The camera pans out to reveal a dark, dismal parking lot in one of the numerous under-construction malls in the outskirts of Delhi. The parking lot, Titli believes, is his ticket to freedom from his oppressive family, and it costs 3 lakhs. “Dream hai tera, atthanni mein khareedega kya (It’s your dream, will you buy it for a penny?),” his friend quips. This then is the central premise: the unlikely hero chasing a cash-rich vision as a means to counter the essential dissatisfaction of his circumstances—the perennial story of the unprivileged everyman in every city. Consequently, an aura of frustration and a deep, fledgling hope pervades the film and its characters.
Shashank Arora, with his prominent nose and impenetrable face with a constantly pained expression, is perfect as Titli. Like the rest of the characters (and the extras), you wouldn’t be surprised to find him ambling along the Inner Circle (of Connaught Place in Delhi), or eating an ice-cream at India Gate, although the film steers clear from such city clichés and shows Titli scootering over flyovers, or lurking around urban-village alleys and construction sites and housing complexes instead. Undoubtedly, the film manages to capture the essence of Delhi and its people, beyond the usual India Gate, Red Fort, and Moolchand flyover routines as seen in films of the past that took up the challenge of depicting the city. The way Delhi looks or feels, or the way its citizens talk, act, and expend their wit, especially through abuse—Behl and co-writer Sharat Katariya (director of another recent Yash Raj film, ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’) manage to hit the proverbial nail bang on its head, be it references to the Pintu bhais and the Joga bhais of the city, or the attitude of the cops, or the old Bajaj Chetak or a Yamaha RX zooming across traffic. In addition, there are soaring aerial shots of Connaught Place, residential colonies and open farmlands, or scenes showing old DTC buses and conductors corralling passengers, the lead couple’s wedding, or neon-bhangra-discos.
Kudos to the cinematography and editing, since a major portion of the film’s realism may be attributed to these for complementing the tone, attitude, and situations in each scene. The careful use of angles is remarkable, for if one pays attention, one feels that a particular scene might not have been shot any other way. Same goes for the lighting, be it the open sun-and-dust filled environs of the city or the claustrophobic fluorescence of the indoors. At times, like in the sequences showing family tensions, one may feel a palpable discomfort along with a strange voyeuristic thrill, as if the neighbours left a window open, and you’re hiding behind your curtains watching the scene unfold in all its murky and mundane glory. Also, a large part of Titli’s dramatic core is derived from the silence of intense gazes and eye-contact battles between the main characters—and here, close-ups add to the effect.
Ranvir Shorey, as Vikram, the loud and violent elder brother, and the de facto patriarch, gives another stellar performance, as does the rest of the cast. The film also passes subtle comments on the changing values and gentrification of the city, as the malls and the flats take over the landscape. When the middle brother, Bawla (played by Amit Sial) tries to convince Vikram about getting Titli married, emphasising how the prospective addition may be good for the family business (mainly car-jacking), Vikram voices his patriarchal shock, “Ghar ki laundi se kaam karaayenge? (We’ll make the woman of the house, work?)” Pat comes the reply, “Sab kara rahe hain, (Everyone is doing it)” and the matter is settled.
Enter Shivani Raghuvanshi as Neelu—a fitting bride for the family. A badass in her own way, she too, like Titli, is obsessed with an impossible dream: that of living with her already-married, real-estate pushing Prince, who in contrast to the dank rooms of Titli’s house lives in a typical Delhi bungalow zone, with cars neatly parked on each side of the road, and porches, lawns, and swings in the verandahs. The couple makes a sinister deal for the pursuit of their respective goals, and one can’t help but feel that they are on a doomed quixotic journey.
Then, as I walked out of PVR Rivoli, I saw a young couple sitting under a tree near India Coffee House. The girl, in a magenta suit, was crying, and the guy, in a maroon checked shirt and jeans, was wiping her tears. 10 minutes later, as I again walked past the spot after smoking a cigarette, I saw them smiling and then get up and walk off hand-in-hand, disappearing round the Regal bend: a Titli and a Neelu trying to find themselves amid the vicious yet tender asylum of the city.