4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)
Director : Kanu Behl
Producers : Dibakar Banerjee, Aditya Chopra
Writers : Behl, Katariya, Stewart
Hindi (English subtitles available), 2015
Titli - named after the perpetually half-scowling zonked-looking youngster who somehow survives through this hell-ride of a movie - is the Hindi name for butterflies which have a good chance of flitting through your stomach during some choice moments of this bruiser. It is a unflinching biopsy of Delhi's worst - a companion film to B.A Pass (another Behl there), Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Khosla Ka Ghosla all of which expose urban degeneracy-'n'-corruption without the trappings of mainstream fluff. Powered by debutante Kanu Behl's unfettered direction, scripting help from Katariya & Stewart, and a powerhouse loose-canon performance by Ranvir Shorey , this is Indian arthouse pounded through the pulp of brutal reality.
The ugly concrete underbelly we see so much of here, poor criminals who are a far cry from rich gangsters of fantasia , languid-dreary real-time captures and long bike rides all evoke another memorable crime saga - 'Gomorra' (2008, by Garrone) although I wouldn't go so far as to find significant similarities between Titli and Shonen (Boy) , the 1969 feature by Oshima detailing a younger boy driven dysphoric by his family's car-centric crimes.
As pic starts, we see Titli making a plan for his future and then slowly wading into a slum - the single-take sequence accompanies him slowly walking down a lane and towards his elder brother Vikram (Ranvir Shorey). The remainder of that early sequence is enough to show us the kind of creature that Vikram is - a physically violent emotionally volatile animal who is separated from his wife and daughter but who still continues his aggressive no-holds-barred insanity. Vikram now lives with Titli, another younger brother and their father in a hovel. For a living they waylay cars on deserted roads and it is anybody's guess whether the victim's skulls they hammer will survive or die. As his ex-sister-in-law caustically tells Titli, Titli himself hasn't been a paragon of virtue thus far, but as we steadily see, this isn't a way of life that the latter aims to sustain...
Produced by the clout of Yash Raj Films, the true moral godfather of Behl's first cinematic child is co-producer Dibakar Banerjee (one of the opening credits's frames spell out DBP as the only characters on the screen while the word 'debut' is inscribed within the trunk of 'P') . The parallels between this picture and Banerjee's auteuristic ouevre are conspicuous - a Delhi which has become infernal, police inspectors outclassing the thugs in criminal caliber, cars waylaid with murderous intent (cf. 'LSD'), and a widepsread malignancy of morals in the picturized populace.
The most gut-churning scene by far is what happens in the aftermath of Titli and his female partner's first major shopping experience. Behl doesn't pull his punches and the result is a vicarious view of a terrifying nightmare occurring in broad daylight. Another superbly picturized scene happens in the couple's makeshift bedroom after Titli's brothers decide to get him married so as to get some help in domestic duties. Employing two camera angles - one right above the wife and another a medium-length capture from the other side of the bed - it is a scene devoid of gratuitousness and chockful of reality-bites as Titli realizes all the possibilites a 'first night' can entail.
And it's a rotten mix of people who populate this tale. Vikram , the raging bull of this story , is a remorseless criminal I will hang at the earliest, but the pic paints even a monster like him in redemptive shades especially in the scene when he tenderly treats his young sister-in-law as if she were a child. The other older elder of the family seems decent but his subtly devious personality comes through in sporadic but definite hints. The police inspector in this story is a certifiable bastard who not only sanctions heinous crime but also filches a large amount from a person he's arrested , thus preventing the latter from escaping to a crime-free life. Even the young girl whom Titli is wedded to by arranged marriage (Shivani Raghuvanshi : nice but intermittently wooden - more on that later) initially seems very much a martyr, but that label gets diluted as the pic progresses.
Surprisingly , certain Bressonic influences are too distinct too miss in 'Titli' : the use of non-professional actors, and the decision to leave key scenes to transpire off-camera. However, Kanu Behl's deliberate decision to choose greenhorns for acting, so as to distil 'natural' performances, unwittingly generates a lot of average acting which didn't really seem the pinnacle of verisimillitude for me. When Ranvir Shorey's brilliantly charged performace goes off-screen, the pic loses that much steam which it doesn't reclaim at the end. The finale, despite its logic and moving sentiment, lacks the punch that carried the movie through its start and body. But Behl, with the auspices of Banerjee and Chopra, still scores a sparse gritty victory, by carving out and displaying an urban slice that is as unadorned and piteous as a Titli without wings.
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