Debut feature film of Kanu Behl Titli

Titli
Titli | Photo: © Rapid Eye Movies

Well deserving nomination at Cannes Film festival's Un Certain Regard, Titli is an impressive debut feature film of Kanu Behl – cleverly interweaving Bollywood and independent cinema, and a masala of thriller, crime, romance and social drama. 

Well deserving nomination at Cannes Film festival's Un Certain Regard, Titli is an impressive debut feature film of Kanu Behl – cleverly interweaving Bollywood and independent cinema, and a masala of thriller, crime, romance and social drama.
 
Titli opens with a close-up of Titli's back of the head in darkness in a building under construction. He gazes at cement powder pouring down in the courtyard, a rusted office desk standing in the rubble, and a small cat wandering across the empty and dusty floor. His face remains invisible for a while until he steps outside of the building to haggle. This intentional delay in revealing his face situates him in the horde of faceless young men striving for an escape in an urban jungle, where buildings awaiting construction only belong to those who can afford the price.

The life of an underdog 

Being the youngest one in a car-jacking family, Titli lives in a crumbling dingy house ruled by his vicious eldest brother and inwardly aggressive Father. With the grandfather's photo haunting the household from the altar with a judgmental look, certain things do run in the family – their morning ritual of expectorating during toothbrushing included. While Titli's desires to escape from their underdog life can only be realised with funds, he teams up with his newly-wed wife Neelu who dreams of marrying her real estate tycoon lover.
 
Each milieu in the film is bathed in a different colour scheme; bedroom in crimson red, wedding parade in fluorescent green, outdoor scenes against celestial blue, midnight street in dim yellow light. What unfolds is a paternalistic society where social discrepancy and corruption lurk in every corner of daily life and where people are easily abandoned and forgotten in the process of gentrification in Dehli. The skyline is covered by construction sites of high-rise buildings and highway is occupied by luxurious automobiles, but Titli's family only gets to take a glimpse of this world through violently robbing car owners. It is also a society in transition. Women are empowered through financial independence; homosexuality, though remaining out of sight, is increasingly tolerated and understood. Yet patriarchs remain bewildered and go against the current.

A brutal and tender portrayal of India

With an extensive backstory enriched by subtile details and hidden hints, Titli's portrayal of India is simultaneously brutal and tender, heart-breaking and heart-warming. It is by abruptly leaving the building which we see in the beginning of the film that Titli finally breaks free from his circular movement in search of money. Shashank Arora in his role of Titli makes a nameless face and a faceless name recognisable in the gigantic metropolis and transforms a nobody into everybody. This is a unique cinematic rollercoaster and an eye-opener in contemporary Indian cinema.