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[Y]Watch: ‘Titli’ Movie Review – Real, Effortless And Terribly Dark

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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.

titli review meter

Let’s stop talking and make it the official entry for next year’s Oscars already.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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