Reviews

Titli: The hell within

A still from the movie.

A still from the movie.   | Photo Credit: 31dmc Titli

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Subverting one of the most staple tropes of Hindi cinema, debutant Kanu Behl has come up with a beast that not only soars but also stings. It is about a family of carjackers that eats together and kills together. On the surface it is about patriarchy, it is about violence in the dystopia setting of Delhi-NCR where the air is thick with greed and betrayal but ultimately Titli tells you what we are and what we can become when circumstances start playing Russian roulette with us. It jolts you. It makes you look within and it is not an easy feeling. There is subversion in treatment as well. Shot on Super-60 camera, the grainy texture, the claustrophobic Sangam Vihar setting and the central conceit, a gang of carjackers trying to conduct a heist, gives it a part noir and part thriller feel but as Behl and co-writer Sharat Katariya peel off the layers, we discover the heist is a red herring.



Director: Kanu Behl
Genre: Drama
Cast: Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shashank Arora, Lalit Behl, Shivani Raghuvanshi
Bottomline: Using a hammer like a scalpel, Kanu Behl cuts through the basic unit of a patriarchal society.
Mounted more like a dramatized documentary, Behl manages to create a sense of community as well as a complete lack of space at the same time.

Nothing seems to be working for this dysfunctional family living next to a stinking drain in East Delhi. The head and the eldest brother Vikram ( Ranvir Shorey) lives on the daily killings that the family makes on the road and feels strange when the youngest Titli (Shashank) wants to break free from the hell. The father’s (Lalit Behl) nodding silence gives Vikram the license to rule. The middle one, Bawla (Amit Sial), advises Vikram to get Titli married to rein him in. They find a suitable bride for Titli. Suitable because Neelu is also a Titli, she is also a product of patriarchy and is figuring ways to escape. Both don’t know the direction as they get into a mutually exploitative relationship. The scene where Titli fractures her arm after injecting anaesthesia is a strange cross between dream and desperation that leaves you dumbfounded.

It results in a sinking feeling, aggravates an inner injury, what they call gum chot in North India, for it presents the underbelly of shining India when many of us want to hold on to the vestiges of Yash Raj or Barjatya’s air brushed family. Good that the former has backed this attempt for course correction. It converses with you long after the credits roll when you look into the mirror while brushing your teeth or passing food on the dining table. Its characters and their actions are in your face but the message it imparts is anything but broad. It stings like a bee.

Behl uses the ordinary to hint at the changing dynamics in the family. Like the shift in the seating position of Titli on the dining table, which Vikram fondly bought on the birthday of his daughter. Or the change in the gargling pattern of Titli…you have to draw your own answers. Ultimately Titli discovers that physical escape is not enough for he is carrying the imprint of the family in the inner recess of his core. And it surfaces in the way he deals with Neelu. In the story about patriarchy, Behl doesn’t let his female characters down. Both Neelu and Vikram’s wife stand out.

Shashank fits the title role. Titli demanded an expressionless face hiding a million emotions, a fragile figure who has to belie his feminine name to survive in the cruel surroundings. Shashank conveys the pain and bewilderment through those expansive eyes, swollen lips and a gaze that makes you uncomfortable. So does Shivani as the feisty Neelu who is running after a mythical Prince in the concrete jungle. Ranvir does everything that makes you hate him but the way Vikram is written you can figure the victim in him. Be it Vikram's crudity or Bawla's sexuality or for that matter the father’s ghostly presence, Behl doesn’t milk the obvious. Instead, he offers a slice of life where blood is spread instead of ketchup. Go taste!

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2019 9:17:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/titli-the-hell-within/article7823421.ece

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