One of the first things you notice about Yash Raj Films’ and Dibakar Banerjee Pictures’ Titli is its nuanced and realistic portrayal of Delhi. This is not just in the contrast between the wide, growing landscape of the capital city and the claustrophobic interiors of its older residential pockets, but also in every character and use of dialogue.
From Ranvir Shorey’s character as the elder brother, in a family of rogues who live in Delhi and operate a systematic car-jacking lifestyle within the capital city’s survivalist underbelly, to the title characters Titli (Shashank Arora) and Neelu’s (Shivani Raghuvanshi) brazen disregard for all things normal, everything in debutant director Kanu Behl’s film points in one direction: How the changing face of Delhi is a character in itself, in Titli.
“It started as a film about oppression and violence between two brothers, but as we started to develop the concept, we realised how many layers it was shaping into. What started as a film about breaking free and patriarchy, is actually a film about family,” says Behl, who is running from pillar to post during the last leg of the film’s promotions before it releases this Friday.
Speaking exclusively to Firstpost about their experience of making Titli, Behl and Dibakar Banerjee give us insight into setting the film in their hometown. Behl is also from Delhi, and assisted Banerjee in his earlier films (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, and Love, Sex aur Dhokha).
“If I wasn’t a Delhiite, I wouldn’t have made Titli. One of the first things that hits you when you enter Delhi is the chaotic development you see. The difference between the haves and have-nots almost stares back at your face. But if I had to make a realistic film, based on my life experiences, I would have had to set it in Delhi,” says Behl.
Banerjee, however, slightly disagrees, explaining to us how being the way that it is, Delhi adds more to Titli‘s narrative than we can imagine. “One thing that Delhi brings to the table is that there is a lack of a film industry in there. And therefore if filmmakers decide to not follow the Bollywood idiom, or the Hollywood idiom, they have a fresh human angle to choose from,” he says, adding, “People from Mumbai are a bit more filmy, but Delhi people are more starstruck. These are my observations, and similarly I feel the reason why Titli has a fresh, raw feel to it is because it is free of the influence of the film industry. We are telling it the way it is.”
Titli was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, and then traveled to many other international film festivals in the same year such as the 13th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, BFI London Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands and 5th Beijing International Film Festival, among others. With so much international exposure before the film’s India release, we can’t help but wonder how a film about a family in Delhi was so well-received with international audiences who are quick to lap up Indian stereotypes?
Pat comes the answer.
“It’s a very well-made film. That may be an unromantic answer, but it’s true. The cinephile audience of Europe also played a part because they wanted to learn about another culture all while sitting in their native place and not through the lens of Bollywood or even Hollywood. For them it was an interest of another culture, and then they found a connect through it,” says Banerjee, and Behl agrees. “Titli is a story of a family, and family is one of the most basic units across the world,” says Behl.
One of the more refreshing bits of the film is its use of predominantly new actors. Something about the dynamics between the fresh faces of Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi makes you sit and notice what they’re saying. And then there’s Ranvir Shorey, who completely takes the cake. However, Behl reveals that it took them some time to convince Banerjee about casting Ranvir Shorey as the character of the older brother.
“Actually they didn’t have to convince me. I wasn’t sure about him playing Vikram because it was something very new. I was stuck in my own groove and I kept wondering if it were possible. I was just slightly iffy but when I saw what Ranvir has done in the film, I can tell you that this is probably no, wait, not probably, it is certainly his career best. He beats his character from Khosla Ka Ghosla hands down,” says Banerjee. This claim raises our eyebrows because Ranvir Shorey as Bunty in Khosla Ka Ghosla is arguable everybody’s favorite, funny older brother.
“In Khosla… he (Ranvir) had to step a little away from himself and do an author back role with comedy and funny lines. We gave him the best lines. He got the audience’s sympathy. Vikram is a character that has no grounds to get the audience sympathy. But when you see the film, you can see how Ranvir has almost stolen the show,” he adds.
To decide whether you agree with Dibakar Banerjee or not, you will have to watch the film.
Titli releases on October 31st, 2015.