MUMBAI - One of the recurring images in Kanu Behl’s “Titli” (Butterfly) is that of the eponymous protagonist sitting on a two-seater bike, squashed between his two brothers and unable to move an inch. His face has a defeated expression as the trio ride along the wide roads and grimy alleys of Delhi. That is Titli in an essence – always trapped and desperate to break free.
His brothers are carjackers, driven to a life of crime on the hope that it will provide a step up from their squalid home and their miserable lives. Their father (played brilliantly by Lalit Behl, the director’s father) is the silent but toxic presence that poisons the atmosphere in the house by pitting his sons against each other.
Abused by his brothers and disillusioned by his life, Titli’s only route to escape is investing in a parking lot in a shopping mall, a symbol of the new upwardly mobile India that he thinks represents a better life. But his brothers get a hint of his plans and nip them in the bud by getting him married.
“Once he has a family, there is no escaping,” Amit Sial, who plays the middle brother, tells his elder brother Vikram (Ranvir Shorey, in what is probably the role of a lifetime). When Titli’s bride Neelu enters the all-male household, the dynamics change. She is no pushover, has her own agenda, and isn’t beyond using Titli to get it.
There is ruthlessness in all of Behl and co-writer Sharat Katariya’s characters. In some like Vikram’s, the personality is visible and bubbling at the surface like lava, ready to explode any moment. In the case of Titli, it is latent and almost matter-of-fact. He doesn’t flinch even when he deliberately fractures someone’s hand with a hammer, even though the audience is likely to.
It is because of scenes like this that “Titli” is not an easy watch. These are not immensely likeable people, and though the movie may end, their problems won’t. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. Behl doesn’t bother giving us a backstory to his characters, nor does he state explicitly what happens to them next. Like many other things in the movie, we are left to draw our own conclusions.
There are a couple of convenient plot points that stick out in an otherwise tight screenplay; but other than that, there is not much fault to find here.
Behl and Katariya aren’t the only stars of the film. Parul Sondh’s production design is incredibly detailed and make the characters and their bleak lives come alive. Shashank Arora as Titli and Shivani Raghuvanshi as Neelu are the embodiments of their characters.
Bollywood has always been enamoured by the family unit. Film after film glorified it, telling us that all our problems start when we move away from our loved ones. Karan Johar’s blockbuster “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”, about the troubles of an affluent family, had the rather corny punchline: “It’s all about loving your family.” Behl turns that dated concept around.
Yes, he seems to be telling us that family is what makes you who you are, but that isn’t always a good thing. Families can also be selfish, limiting and detrimental to your identity and being. Perhaps it is time Bollywood discards the candy floss version of the great Indian family and adopts this more real, searing version. -Reuters
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