Director: Kanu Behl
Starring: Shashank Arora, Ranvir Shorey, Shivani Raghuvanshi
Delhi is a land of opportunities, but it is also famous as a land of crooks.Guru Dutt had rejected the corrupt world of malice and greed — “Yeh daaulat ke bhooke rawaazon ki duniya, yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai” — that he understood as a digression from young India’s vision of independence in his role as the poet Shyam in Pyaasa . If he were a part of Titli’s world of avarice, it would have led him to balk in the most decided manner at the state of affairs.
Titli (Shashank Arora) and his small family of crooks live in a boxed-up apartment next to the railway track in “Jamna paar Dilli”, a piece of information only Delhites can capture in its true layers of meaning. This is a hint at the city’s possible slide into lawlessness. The nature of crime and its criminals is not the Gurgaon or even Noida variety — each suburb has its own microcosm of license that lends itself to Delhi’s collective scope for noir. Titli and his two elder brothers (Ranvir Shorey as Vikram and Amit Sial as Pradeep) steal cars for a living. Titli gets into an arranged marriage with a girl, called Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), who isn’t remotely interested in him: she has a “love” whom she cares the world for, and enters into a deal with her husband to stay with him till her paramour is freed off his wife to get married to her.
Shot in a cold fluorescent tone reminiscent of tube lights for interiors, and the yellowed tungsten streetlight and near darkness of Delhi lanes at night, each frame of the film brings in the suffocation that Titli feels in his world of Dickensian poverty. His world is full of irritating noises: the sound of his father brushing, trains travelling nearby at all times of day and night, sewage pipes making those familiar suction sounds that are only too audible through the seemingly paper thin walls. In contrast, Titli’s wife, Neelu, is in love with a builder, whose wealth jars Titli — he has a house with potted plant-dotted boundary walls and a perceivably normal family where birthdays mean cakes and celebration. Titli, in contrast, faces the paucity of emotional support as well: while the family is close to each other, it is clear that when it comes to survival, it’s each man to his own. The lack of women in that household is palpable — after Titli’s brother goes through a divorce, Titli is constantly on the watch to check whether the other men in the house do not lavish affections on his wife. Their suffocating world does not afford them any luxury;p when Neelu and Titli have a fight, she has to make the choice between changing in front of the man who just hit her, or go out in half undress to change in the washroom in front of the other men of the family who populate the place.
It is understandable why Dibakar Banerjee would take this script under his wing: Titli is reminiscent of Khosla ka Ghosla, only much darker than the latter, which was, after all, a comedy. Neelu and Titli’s relationship is the only part of the movie that has not been caricaturied. It might not be perfect or even close to ideal, but it is the only ray of hope in an otherwise dark world of compromises that debutante feature film director Kanu Behl has etched.
At 2 hours and 10 minutes, it was possible for us to watch the movie for some more time, a rare feeling when it comes to Hindi cinema. Shashank Arora shines as the shy but aggressive Titli; his slight frame and shy nature belies his fiery temperament, except for a perpetually aggressive twitching lip — a brilliant acting cue that adds to his role. Titli has lived up to its initial promise, with its thrilling noir combined with the clear direction that the plot takes.