Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee


Kanu Behl, whose critically acclaimed film Titli comes to India after accolades in Cannes and other film festivals of the world, talks of how the film is a universal telling of his own personal experiences.

After a long-drawn battle with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) over his debut film Titli, filmmaker Kanu Behl and his producer-mentor Dibakar Banerjee decided to make a quick parody about censorship in Indian films roping in others in the film frat like Mahesh Bhatt, Sudhir Mishra, Hansal Mehta, and taking a dig at an “invisible” Anurag Kashyap. Censor Qtiyapa has gone viral in the last four days in the lead up to the release of Titli on October 30. Young filmmakers like Kanu, who’s earlier written and co-directed films like Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, LSD: Love, Sex Aur Dhoka, seem to have creative savvy and are critical of themselves in equal measure. Kanu Behl talks of the baffling CBFC, casting his father in his movie, how Indian cinema has largely peddled fake 2D families. And how the coming-of-age film Titli looks at the normal, twisted families that we really are, with all their complexities. Excerpts from an interview.

Is your sardonic “Censor Qtiyapa” video showing the world that Indian filmmakers can laugh at themselves?

I hope so. The idea is to get the word out and also be able to talk about what’s important to all of us.

What made you want to do this little parody?

We’d had a long, I wouldn’t call it a “run in”, but a long “negotiatory period” with the CBFC and we walked away quite confused about what the guidelines were, and with a lot of questions in our head. I had heard so many stories from so many filmmakers who ran into trouble over various things. Me and Dibakar (Banerjee) were talking and laughing about it, and we thought it will be fun to do something like this... to speak about how baffled the process left us. Talking to TVF, it quickly snowballed and everyone got excited.

Do you think this will impact the CBFC’s decisions in any way? Or is it just your creative rebellion?

I hope so. The hope is somewhere to try to reach out to them and talk to them and I hope it gives them as much of a laugh as it’s giving us. But also hope it forces them to look inward and address the whole process — rules and guidelines. There’s been this whole murky territory around that cussword list. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes not.

With Titli, the problem with the CBFC was largely about language. Having to make the cuts you did, how has it changed the telling of your story?

For a filmmaker every little bit you lose without a reason becomes painful; it hurts. Especially if you think what’s being done is absurd. In my film the debate was about language but we had applied for an adult (A) certificate, so how does it matter if it’s 30 or 80 cusswords. We do have some cusswords in it were we were able to convince the CBFC that it was absolutely necessary.

You’ve said that the patriarchy and rebellion theme that form the crux of Titli comes from your own life. And you’ve cast your father as the father in the film! In doing so, didn’t you feel exposed? That you put your life out there?

Listen, my idea to do films was never to hide behind them. The idea is to push who you are and what you know about yourself and be able to transpose it into some sort of a universal experience. So that it goes from being your personal experience and connect with a wider audience; which can go touch people on a bigger level. That’s a journey every filmmaker is trying to go through with each film they make. For me, I’m interested in whatever is personal and honest, and personally lived. I was never wanting to shy away from it. But I didn’t want it to be a personal rant either.

When you speak of wanting to transcend the personal, why then, still, did you decide to cast your dad?

It’s a very tricky part; a very silent pregnant part in the sense that there’s a latent intensity in the film.

The significance of the character suddenly bursts into the space of the film very later on. It’s probably so subtle, a lot of people can miss it. We auditioned a lot of actors for the part and we weren’t able to get anyone for it.But then I realised my father would already know the rhythms of the kind of family we are talking about. And he’s a trained actor.

You’ve been fascinated by the documentary, and you’ve attempted Titli too this way. Why does this form appeal to you?

It’s not that that the documentary style per se is my style. I don’t think I have a style at all.

I think Titli needed to be shot this way. I don’t believe in having a style or stamp, so to say, as a director. The whole auteur theory — I don’t believe in it. I think a film is a document on its own. It has a language of its own. With this story the sensitive material that we had on hand, the fact that it needed to be shot in a really “real’ way necessitated itself to be lent that style.

Titli is essentially seen as this dark film with layers and connotations to it. But doesn’t audience really throw money at faff these days?

( Laughs long and hard) I don’t know which audience you’re talking about. Because, look at the slew of films that have worked this year but were not expected to do well — be it NH10 or Dum Laga Ke Haisha or Talvar. I don’t think Titli is a dark film. Honestly.

It’s a film about us that speaks our language. It’s about our people, about all families anywhere in India. It tries to talk about stuff which we sometimes want to look away from.

I don’t think audiences are stupid. I don’t think they want to throw money at faff at all. I think one has to respect audience and give them a story where they have enough meat to bite into and if they get something juicy and tasty, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t want to take it up.

When you say it’s about families anywhere in India, you almost sound like Karan Johar. Obviously you’re looking at very different kind of families…

I don’t think families are cardboard 2D pieces like we see in most of Indian cinema. I think Titli is an attempt to look at a real families – the ones we inhabit at home. Where you try to understand everyone within a family through the eyes of the protagonist. For me it’s a look at real families and not fake 2D families peddled around by most of Indian cinema.

Will the twain ever meet — between “festival” films and “Box Office” films?

I don’t think it’s about festival films and Box Office films. I think there are good films and there are bad films. Titli is an Indian film for Indian audiences. Whatever has happened with it — accolades — is a surprise and bonus. We never anticipated it. We had really made a strong, honest film for people here.

At the end of the day you go to a cinema hall to see a film that has real characters, has a strong story, and has something to say, is relatable and easy to understand. And which doesn’t pose and pout like an intellectual film. It comes down to “is it an engaging entertaining good film, or a crappy bad film”.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 8:35:32 AM |

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