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Times of India
Kanu Behl's promising debut is a riveting account of survival, unfulfilled dreams, emotional meltdowns and crime. Set in Delhi's dystopic underbelly, the film terrifyingly lingers in your mind long after you've seen it.
Right from the opening scene, Titli snatches you from the safe and secure confines of your home and drops you amidst the violent chaos, caused by the crime inflicting dysfunctional family.
Revolving around three brothers, reminiscent of our society's patriarchal hooliganism, the drama plays around with your mind in varied ways. Titli (Shashank Arora), youngest among the three, aspires to distance himself from his indignant brothers (Ranvir Shorey, and Amit Sial) owing to their dubious behaviour. He hopes for a better future.
The father on the contrary, nonchalantly watches his elder sons partaking in nefarious activities, as long as they put food on the table. With no steady income at hand, the family unapologetically resorts to crime. In order to clip his wings, they get Titli married to naive but headstrong Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi). She secretly harbours her own set of dreams. Can the two escape the family trap?
Morally ambiguous initially, it's the flawed characters that make this noirish crime drama compelling. They are not one-dimensional, which makes you empathise with them despite their eccentricities. Brutally real, Titli is essentially a disturbing tale on deep-rooted frustration and a sense of worthlessness that stems the criminal culture in India.
It explores our modern-day opportunistic and exploitative tendencies. A saga of caged emotions and deceiving people that exude ruthlessness, Titli works as a documentary-style psychological thriller that evokes panic and discomfort.
All the actors do a commendable job but it is Ranvir Shorey who is most effective. This is by far his best performance. Production designer Parul Sondh manages to transport you to the dingy backyards of old Delhi.
Titli is not for the faint-hearted as it not only introduces you but makes you feel a part of the family that gives you the creeps.
Lynch is served
This film is not for the mildhearted or the lily-livered. It has all the elements for a gripping trailer: a man being mutilated with a hammer, a woman urinating through her denims, a brutally-executed mugging scene that leaves the assailants blood-smeared and a character hopeful of an escape from his reality. These visuals will pick one's curiosity about the sequence of events leading to them and one would even assume a severe story line. But this is a loosely packaged tale of desperate measures and has situations forcibly driving consequences. It is a hollow yet terrifying tale of a family that is consciously irresponsible for their actions.
For someone in his late teens, Titli (Shashank Arora) has a singularly piercing and forlorn gaze, probably symbolic of his unfulfilled dreams. The youngest in the family, he has elder brothers, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Baawla (Amit Sial). The family also has an almost-mute father (Lalit Behl), who coughs more than he speaks. But coughing runs in the family, in fact, coughing accompanied by clearing of throat while brushing teeth is a family trait so obsessively portrayed that one wonders if a sub-plot revolves around the family's battle with tuberculosis. It doesn't. The family business is lynching and car jacking on deserted highways. When Titli's plan of escaping the family's rotten ways is established, his brothers decide on getting him married. The selected bride Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi) doesn't bring any calm to the chaos and the alliance is only a front to work things out with her ex-boyfriend, Prince. We endure one gruesome scene after another, till the film ends on a hopeful note.
The film sketches some beautifully awkward silences. The one that tops the list is when Titli is about to execute his ingenious plan: hammering his wife's hand as the act promises a happy consequence (no spoilers here). He doesn't want her to endure pain so he administers an anesthetic, which takes a while to kick in. Neelu suggests, 'thoda wait karlo' and so they do, with little else to say to each other. While this wait is a few seconds long, it seems forever. Then there's a pseudo David Lynch-ish dream sequence. Titli is frantically climbing up flights of stairs of an under-construction building while bumping into photo frames, dropping from above.
Many films have showcased the business of mugging on deserted highways. From Navdeep Singh's gritty NH10 to Amit Kumar's terrifying short, The Bypass (starring Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Consequently, the disgraceful act doesn't draw the same stun and seems like a subject that would only attract foreign audiences and festival ferns on the DVD cover.
Ranvir Shorey packs in one of the best performances of his career, whether he's mouthing expletives or hammering down on someone's face, he is determined and immersed in the job at hand. Despite playing the most reckless character in the film, he layers it with shades of sentiment, lending his character a distinct emotional vulnerability. Shashank Arora manages his title role with constraint and his sudden bursts of rage only testify that his character is made from the same mold as his brothers. Shivani Raghuvanshi essays a character that swings between silently resolute and irrationally submissive and she is aptly cast.
Debutant director Kanu Behl has evidently tucked in scenes that he wanted in his first film; whether it complements the mood of the film is not a consideration. Yet, he should be credited for pulling off a film with a wafer-thin story that wins your attention through the 117 minutes of its runtime.
Titli seems to be made with the single-minded objective of leaving audiences with an unsettling feeling-A constant discomfort that can't be shrugged off, like a nasty itch at an unreachable part of your back. If this is what you seek from cinema, book your tickets now.
The film marks the Bollywood debut of Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi. It is also Kanu Behl's first film as a director.
A news report of a car-jacker gang in Delhi, led by a local goon, inspired director Kanu Behl to work on the script of the film.
No scripts were brought to the sets as Kanu wanted his actors to improvise and not 'act out' scenes.
Dibakar Banerjee and YRF's joint production, Titli, has garnered excellent reviews, but the appreciation failed to translate into box office success.
The Kanu Behl film earned around Rs 1.75 crore in its first week. It made Rs 25 lakh in its second weekend.