Titli is a story of a dysfunctional family, three brothers and a father, who’ve lived a life of crime and violence. Quartered in a squalid, run-down area in East Delhi, they make a living car-jacking.
First-time director Kanu Behl skilfully brings out the nuances of the city, establishing a setting that feels lived in.
Fraught with violence and gore, Titli is a disturbing descent into the city’s grim, visceral underbelly thick with crime and corruption. There’s no hope or escape in sight. The characters inhabit a world where immorality is a norm and hopelessness and despair are constant companions. Titli can be a difficult watch.
There’s an unrefined, documentary-like rawness to the film, that lends an uncanny realness to the experience. And like the film, Behl’s characters are real people, marvellously well etched. They’re suffused with a realism rarely accomplished in Hindi cinema.
That’s the beauty of Titli.
Tour De Force Ensemble
For an actor of incredible comedic prowess, Ranvir Shorey’s transformation into the ruthless Vikram, is remarkable. But then again, he as easily sheds a tear.
Pradeep (Amit Sial), younger to Vikram is mostly a peacemaker, mediating between the two brothers, but an equal partaker in the family’s criminal affairs. And with their father (masterly played by Kanu’s father Lalit Behl) a silent spectator to their wrongdoings, their amoral ways seem an inherent part of their existence.
The youngest of the three, Titli (Shashank Arora) is driven and has a dream. A dream of a better life. A dream that will remain one until he finds a way out of the murk. But the more he grapples his way out, the deeper he’s sucked into the abyss. Will he find an exit? Or will he succumb? (Related: 13 Best Bollywood Thrillers On Netflix: Talvar, Andhadhun)
Debutant Shashank Arora infuses the role with a believability that only a seasoned actor can. He hooks you to his story in the opening scene; his eyes convey the immensity of his longing and a dream far out of his reach.
Neelu (spectacularly portrayed by debutante Shivani Raghuvanshi) is innocently oblivious to the ‘family’ business, when she’s married off to Titli. But we discover a stronger streak to her as the story progresses. She’s intransigent enough to live life on her own terms and lends herself well to the central theme of the plot of the film. At its core, Titli shines a light on patriarchy.
At the same time, its women characters, whatever few, are lensed from a very individualistic standpoint. They’re unyielding, unafraid to take a stand. Even Shorey’s wife drives home the point in her limited screen time.
There’s an underlying assertiveness to Behl’s storytelling that plays out so subtly it’s overwhelming to think how he managed to piece together this ingenious crime fable. It would be reductive, though, to call it a crime thriller because there’s so much more the film has to offer in its 116-minute runtime.
Penned by Sharat Katariya (who also wrote and directed Dum Laga Ke Haisha) and Kanu Behl, Titli is a cinematic triumph in its telling of a story, gritty, richly layered and ultimately deeply scarring.
Watch Titli on Amazon Prime