Co-written and directed by Kanu Behl, TITLI is undoubtedly one of the most hard-hitting films of the year with performances capable of shaking you well establishing a highly relatable connection with the viewers, especially with the people living in Delhi and NCR. But unfortunately it’s not the same Delhi anymore on the screen that once had all positive vibes and a unique freshness as seen in films such as Sai Pranjpye’s CHASHME BUDDOOR in the 80s.
Interestingly Kanu Behl was also associated with two other projects of the new millennium effectively using the backdrop of Delhi in their respective storylines and they were Dibakar Banerjee’s OYE LUCKY LUCKY OYE (2008) and LSD: LOVE, SEX AUR DHOKHA released in 2010. However where these films specifically focused on the Punjabi ambience of the West, North or the Central Delhi, TITLI thoughtfully takes you into the virgin lanes of East Delhi (lower middle class regions of Yamuna Paar to be specific) painting a different picture of the city moving ahead of all the earlier films mentioned above.
In other words, it’s this authentic portrayal of the small adjoining houses of the region, the narrow lanes, huge sewer lines, tough living conditions, regular petty fights in the locality, unemployed youth looking for some easy money, numerous cases of road rages, builders lobby, easy availability of local ammunition, involvement of Police in even the small crimes and more, that exactly becomes the first strong merit of the film demanding a much deserving praise for its director along with his talented team of writers, art-director and the cinematographer in particular (capturing it beautifully on a probably lower format).
The second powerful merit of the film is its highly engrossing, impressive as well as disturbing performances that actually don’t let you think anything else till it all gets over on an open note (following a set pattern). The cast ensemble brilliantly portrays the story of a dysfunctional family of 3 brothers and a father, with the elder brother going through a divorce and the youngest unwillingly getting married to a pretty girl, with a purpose of using her in some hidden criminal acts of the family not many are aware of.
Towering them all, Ranvir Shorey as the elder brother simply nails it with a haunting act full of terrifying anger, rage and violence. Amit Sial as the second brother presents a balanced act with a touch of kindness too. And Shashank Arora as the youngest (Titli) delivers an intense performance of a confused yet desperate youth willing to get out of his family’s deadly mess at the earliest. Lalit Behl enacting their father (director’s own father) impresses you in a different manner with his awkward lost mannerisms and body language. But its actually Shivani Raghuvanshi as Neelu (Titli’s wife) who simply wins the contest along with Ranvir playing a strong girl living with her own agenda of life that in reality has no sane meaning or direction, performing sportingly in the masterstroke scene where she pisses out of fear in the car itself.
Together director Kanu Behl, his co-writer and the team conceives a film that simply isn’t interested in any spoon feeding (about the past) but does have a detailed visual description of the present life lived by its key characters with many small indicative insertions like the way they dress, eat, brush, gargle and talk to each other in a lingo that is so close to Delhi’s real life found in such lower middle class colonies. Though its stomach churning violence and raw treatment might not be a pleasant feature for a larger section of viewers looking for their usual entertainment, but with a brisk story progression and crisp editing, the film doesn’t drag at all and also provides the much needed relief factor too through some intelligent dark humour placed at regular intervals. In fact this remains the major reason why one isn’t able to point out the flaws while watching it, but then slowly starts thinking about them in a sequence, while walking out of the theater largely unsatisfied with the way it ends without making any shocking impact.
Stating the flaws or its major drawbacks, the film is just perfect in its opening sequences and impresses you strongly in these initial moments till they decide to get their youngest brother married to an even smarter girl. And its from here onwards that the narration tends to become quite filmy as well as overdone at times with no investigations shown for the regular loots undertaken by the brothers in the same region, easy & mindless stealing of the trial-car (probably) killing the salesman too in the broad daylight with no chasing of police and then intentionally breaking the girl’s right hand with a consent just to avoid the signing of a FD document. Besides, at one end the family is shown to be living in poor conditions throughout the film (though eating chicken most of the time in their meals), but on the other they are regularly looting rich travellers, taking away their cars too with no mention of where the money acquired from those crimes goes, skipping it completely.
However my biggest problem was with ‘the unusual marriage’ shown, that was just not believable right from the first scene itself where the two families and the couple meet each other. And here are the reasons why it was so in my personal opinion.
As per the plotline, the girl was having an affair with an already married person with a big age difference and knowing the shocking truth the worried parents wanted to get her married as soon as possible, hoping that she will change post marriage, getting involved with her loving husband and the new family members in her husband’s home.
Yes, that’s very much realistic as helpless parents caught in such concerning situation tend to think in the same manner for the betterment of their own daughter. But in the process they still cannot get her married to any Tom, Dick and Harry, ignoring the clearly visible mis-match, without enquiring about their family status or avoiding making any investigations about the boy or his family’s reputation from their close neighborhood. Even the most uneducated, poor or annoyed parents would not think of doing that with their own daughter, unless we are talking about an exceptional case of a highly disturbed family with only an old drug addict father who has lost his ability of thinking and decision making, which is not the case here in the first place.
Now taking up the very first scene when the two families meet, we get introduced to the girl’s parents as a decent couple representing an upper middle class educated family with the father doing well, probably through a respectable job/business as indicated by their well-maintained home (visible in the backdrop). Plus they seem to be the parents loving their grown-up daughter a lot despite the hidden truth of her affair, giving her a second chance.
In the same scene we also meet the girl (Neelu) sitting there at a couch, having an immensely likable appearance with a charming face, fair complexion, a fine sense of modern dressing and a confident persona in all, that’s way ahead than the ugly looking boy sitting right in front, willing to be her future husband….…being no match whatsoever for the pretty girl from any angle …… hands down.
Next, just look at the boy’s family of all men (4 in total) with an old weird father, an elder brother whose wife has already left the house (living separately from a long time asking for a divorce) and the middle one who has yet not got married for his own undisclosed reasons, running a small shop. So making their daily food & clothes themselves, the four are desperately willing to get the youngest brother married to break this teasing monotony of the house that should ideally raise many serious concerns for the parents of a girl in practical terms.
Furthermore, try to visualize their filthy home again, the rotten furniture, the dirty rooms, the way they use to sit, sleep, eat and bath. Will any father of a girl readily agree to send her charming daughter to such home where they don’t even have proper living conditions or a clean separate room with a proper door? (You can see Bawla fixing a bolt on the door of the room assigned to the couple before their first night.)
More importantly, just recall the scene in the latter half of the movie when Neelu is silently leaving the house walking through the lonely lanes at night and Titli manages to find her, asking her to get back home immediately. In this conversation, he clearly mentions that there would be no use of shouting here as everyone in this locality is very much aware of what we brothers do and who we are.
Still the girl’s parents were not aware of this widespread truth quite strangely when the whole neighborhood knew everything about the criminal background of this ‘all men’ family and their misconducts.
Okay let’s assume that Titli just made it up as a lie, only to threaten Neelu at that particular moment of the night. But then,
Why the parents didn’t make any investigations about the boy and his family from their close neighborhood before saying yes?
Why they didn’t even care to at least once visit the house their daughter was being sent to?
And, Why didn’t they thought of meeting the only lady of the house before taking a decision, i.e. Ranvir’s wife, (who was not living with them anymore), in order to know the exact truth about the people in the family ensuring the safety of their young daughter?
Strangely the writers were least concerned about these crucial points and just to move their story forward, simply decided to assume the girl’s parents readily agreeing to the mismatched marriage as two dumb individuals doing nothing to fulfill their big parental responsibility and having no issues in sending their young, beautiful girl to the unacceptable house of such horrifying criminals only because she was having an affair in the past and they wanted to get rid of her at the earliest.
Honestly this was not any realistic writing as it might seem to be in my personal opinion, depending entirely upon ‘A Marriage’ that was completely out of sync with the real life. Yet concluding the review on a positive note, you should surely watch TITLI for all its praiseworthy, intense performances rising much above the hard to believe sequences in terms of reality. Because though it isn’t perfect, the film still remains a highly appreciable and well enacted experiment that successfully draws your attention towards the kind of life lived in such narrow lanes of the otherwise developed metro cities of our country.
Rating : 3.5 / 5 (with the additional 0.5 just for Ranvir Shorey’s flawless portrayal of a psycho character.)