Director: Kanu Behl
Cast: Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shashank Arora, Shivani Raguvanshi, Lalit Behl
By Saibal Chatterjee Debutant Kanu Behl's taut and telling Titli, jointly produced by Yash Raj Films and Dibakar Banerjee Productions, is a riveting crime drama with multiple narrative layers. The film has emerged from within the Bollywood mainstream, but it ploughs its own independent furrow in terms of both substance and style.
Set in Delhi's dystopic underbelly, Titli tells the disquieting story of three car-jacking brothers trapped in a cycle of poverty-fuelled criminality. The youngest of the siblings, Titli (debutant Shashank Arora), wants to branch out on his own and explore a less risky way of making money.
But his elder brothers Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Bawla (Amit Sial) are too deeply entrenched in the family business to entertain any thoughts of letting Titli fly away. This conflict in the brotherhood drives the plot forward, while the powerless patriarch of the family (Lalit Behl) stands by and watches the boys go off the rails. But the old man is obviously no innocent spectator, he is responsible for the moral and material mess that his sons are in.
However, there is much more to Titli than a trio of bickering brothers and a dysfunctional family. The central characters, driven to desperation by perpetual financial strain, are never less than convincing. Their plight reflects the precarious reality of those that are left behind by a rapidly and haphazardly growing city where all the money floating in the air is within the reach of only a minuscule percentage of the populace.
The script by Behl and Sharat Katariya is nimble and pointed enough to weave the wider social themes into the thriller in such a way that they do not weigh down the narrative. One major strand of the story revolves around Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), the strong-willed and tenacious girl that Titli weds at the behest of his brother who hope marriage will bring stability to the young man's life as well as bolster their gang's declining fortunes.
Neelu proves to be quite a handful. She has her own devious plans and Titli seizes upon them to further his own dream of buying the parking space that he hopes to own in an upcoming mall. Titli is strengthened by the perfect casting. Shorey plunges into the role of the violence-prone eldest brother with all his bearings about him.
Sial, playing the less volatile middle brother, is saddled with the weakest of the characters but rises above the limitations that the screenplay imposes on the character. The two first-timers in the cast Arora and Raghuvanshi are called upon to carry much of the film's weight. The duo does a fine job of providing the film most of its momentum as the vulnerable but fiercely determined youngsters striving to snatch a better deal against all odds.
Titli isn't a run-of-the-mill Bollywood film designed merely for the purpose of delivering entertainment. It poses questions, lays bare uncomfortable truths, and delivers sledgehammer blows.