Friday, October 30, 2015


Release date:
October 30, 2015
Kanu Behl

Shashank Arora, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Lalit Behl

Titli is one of the most gripping Hindi films to come to theatres this year. It is entertaining in a hard-to-explain sort of way because it is so heart-stoppingly matter of fact about the horrific, sad, almost bizarre reality check it delivers.

“Reality check” because its universe is far removed from the Hum Saath Saath Hain brand of family that Sooraj Barjatya and many of his colleagues have popularised among Bollywood audiences. Vikram, Bawla and Titli in this film are together not for the saccharine reasons that have bound Barjatya’s many clans. They don’t sing, dance and beam at the camera. They don’t joyously celebrate festivals, marriages and every day of their lives bedecked in designerwear. They don’t match their clothes to their wall paint and furniture. The most these three brothers can afford or bother with is to shave and appear less scruffy when they try to get a bride for the youngest of the three, the interestingly named Titli. They share a home by an accident of birth and an inexplicable bond that comes from the happenstance of being born to the same parents.

When we first meet them, Titli is straining at the leash, trying to get away from the life forced on him by his violent, car-jacking siblings. He is desperately saving money when the elder two discover that he wants out. They decide to get him married. A wife will not only tie him down, they figure, she will also be a big help in their trade. The young female entrant into their all-male household – which includes their eerily quiet father – has a strange story of her own.

Titli is gritty. It is often violent, entirely disturbing, occasionally tough to watch, unexpectedly amusing in flashes and at every step of the way, compelling. What makes it worthwhile even when it is challenging is the non-voyeuristic manner of the portrayal. Besides, despite the dismal scenario in which it is set, in an unlikely alliance that emerges through the story, there shines an unexpected ray of hope.

So assured is his hand on the baton, that it is hard to believe Kanu Behl is a debutant in direction. Some explanation for his steady vision comes from his CV: he has assisted Dibakar Banerjee in the past and was the co-writer of Love Sex Aur Dhoka with Dibakar (who is a co-producer of this film). No doubt it helps too that Kanu’s co-writer on Titli is Sharat Katariya, the writer-director of my favourite Hindi film of 2015 so far, Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

Like Dibakar, it is clear that Kanu and/or Sharat know Delhi well. This is evident, for instance, from how specific they are about the locality where they place their parivaar of Dillivaasis in the story. Jamna Paar (the other side of the River Yamuna) is not a standard Hindi film location. For most snooty south Delhi inhabitants, it has for long signified a lesser part of the Capital which the wealthy do not inhabit. They have less knowledge of the city’s geography and sociology than Team Titli who are aware that there are worlds within worlds, that rising property prices have meant that many moneyed families too reside here. And so Vikram, Bawla and Titli are not just generally placed somewhere in Jamna Paar but precisely in a narrow bylane of a messy mohalla near Jamna Paar’s Mother Dairy plant.

This element in the detailing is as delightful as the banians the men wear at home, discoloured from the original white to a sweat-and-overuse-induced dullness. It is among the many reasons – the unrelenting intensity included – that make Titli such an oddly pleasurable experience.

If I have a grouse against the film, it is that in the post-interval portion, certain plot points and especially the explanation for Titli’s getaway plan get slightly confusing. And though I understand the need to shock with bloodletting especially to convince us of Vikram and Bawla’s consciencelessness and unblinking amorality, I do not want to watch a self-indulgently extended puking scene in which the camera wanders close to the mouth of a puking man.

That being said, the film gives us much more to celebrate than not. It is, for instance, a sermonless, unobtrusive smack on the face of patriarchy. It is also a twisted ode to love and second chances. As for Titli’s cast, they are uniformly, intimidatingly good and highly believable. I confess I have not so far found Ranvir Shorey interesting – that changes with his performance as Vikram in this film. Even lovelier is Amit Sial as Bawla. This wonderful actor ought to be routinely cast as a leading man in films. Newcomer Shashank Arora plays Titli with great restraint and Shivani Raghuvanshi as his wife Neelu is brilliant. The two are so amazingly real, it’s as though the film’s casting director plucked them out of real homes in Dilli’s Jamna Paar in a grimy colony somewhere in the vicinity of Mother Dairy.

Titli was screened in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival last May. It has taken 17 months for this remarkable film to come to mainstream Indian theatres. That is 17 months too many.

It is but natural for Dibakar to back a film that shares his cinematic worldview. The pleasant surprise here is that Titli’s co-producer is Aditya Chopra, whose directorial blockbusters so far are the polar opposite of this film. The Dibakar-Aditya collaboration bodes well for the future of filmmaking in the country. Together they have introduced us to an important new voice in Indian cinema with Titli. Welcome to the national scene, Kanu Behl.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
116 minutes 

Poster courtesy: Yash Raj Films

Friday, October 23, 2015


(This is the English version of an article published on on October 21, 2015.)


Though Bollywood is marginally less resistant to married actresses now, it still insists on giving only certain kinds of roles to women post-marriage and post-motherhood

By Anna MM Vetticad

A decade back, chances are she would have been the hero’s or heroine’s mother. Today, she is the heroine herself.

As trade analysts collate the collections of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Jazbaa, there is more to discuss than money. In an industry that is notoriously disinterested in women post-30, post-marriage and post-babies, Jazbaa – terribly flawed though it is – is a milestone of sorts. After all, how often does Bollywood give the central character in a mainstream film to a 41-year-old married actress returning after a five-year hiatus during which she had a child? This is particularly heartening, coming as it does after a then-49-year-old Sridevi hit the box-office bull’s eye with English Vinglish in 2012 following a 15-year break, and Madhuri Dixit had a moderate success with Dedh Ishqiya last year.

All three stories revolve around their female protagonists. There is a catch though. While an increasingly experimental Bollywood has become marginally less resistant to married actresses in the past decade, it still gives these women limited choices.

For instance, the industry seems determined that real-life mothers must play mothers on screen if they want to be leading ladies. Ash in Jazbaa, Sri in English Vinglish, Kajol in her post-baby films and Madhuri in Aaja Nachle have all been mums in roles that have given centrality to their motherhood. Dedh Ishqiya had an explanation for why Madhuri’s character was childless.

This is not to say that these have been inadequate roles or that on-screen motherhood is undesirable. Quite to the contrary. But where is the variety? Where are the frothy romances starring these actresses, the comedies or stories of feisty older women who are not married and not mothers?

Meanwhile, their male peers are picking from a range of genres and roles, singing and dancing as singletons and husbands, sometimes fathers but most often not, usually laughably younger than their real-life age and courting actresses two decades their junior. With older heroines though, care is taken that their characters match their real-life age, have significant gravitas and that actors around their age play their romantic partners.

Producers insist this is what viewers want. The truth though is they don’t give viewers an alternative, the biggest budgets are still earmarked for male-centric entertainers, major male stars usually don’t want to act with women even close to their age (49-year-old Shah Rukh Khan’s repeated pairing with Kajol, 41, being an exception) and the options offered to older actresses reflect Bollywood’s own narrow-mindedness.

The prevailing mindset is best illustrated by a conversation I had with director Deepak Shivdasani before the release of his film Yeh Raaste Hai Pyaar Ke (2001) starring Madhuri, Ajay Devgn and Preity Zinta. When I asked if Madhuri’s role in the film suited her stardom, he misunderstood. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, “I’ve given her a role that suits the dignity of a married woman.”

Fourteen years later, at least two critics last week felt the need to assure us in reviews that Aishwarya’s role in Jazbaa is “age appropriate”. Yet the press barely protests when men touching 50 play 20- and 30-somethings.

Well, Bollywood producers, writers, directors and journalists are not living in a social vacuum. Like the rest of us, they emerge from our patriarchal society that by and large believes marriage elevates a woman’s stature and expects wives to subordinate their dreams to their spouses’ and children’s needs. It goes without saying that in such an industry, women will have limited options.

They deserve more, but until they get it, every baby step Bollywood takes towards Aishwarya, Madhuri, Sridevi and their ilk is a step worth toasting.

(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)

BBC Hindi link:

Note: This photograph was not sourced from BBC Hindi