It takes a while to come out of the bone-chilling trance Titli takes you through. Chances are if you have watched the 127-minute film in a multiplex of a mall, you might view those environs with different eyes. Titli (meaning butterfly in Hindi) is a dark, vicious story of flaring India under a shining India. It could be the story of anyone you see on the street but barely pay attention to. It could very well be the guard who opens the door of the cinema theatre.
Titli, essayed by 26-year-old theatre artist Shashank Arora, is a young man scorched by urban India's rising ambition shown through its upcoming high-rises and glittery malls, who seeks a way out of his violent family life. The youngest of three brothers, living in a claustrophobic lower-middle class home of a Delhi gully, Titli uses calm smarts to hold strong onto his ambition, sparing no one in its wake, including his wife, Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi). Titli's elder brothers, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Bawla (Amit Sial), seen as working as security and petrol pump attendants actually make ends meet through carjacking and savagery.
Having grown up hardened by violence, both inside and outside the home, Titli seeks an escape, in the process forging a strange equation with his wife who has dreams of her own—seeking to unite with a married lover. Coming alive through his cold, hard eyes, Titli comes to rest lightly on Arora's brilliantly hunched shoulders.
Away from the central character, other strands about contemporary society show up—changing gender norms, dysfunctional families and perpetuation of violence. Vikram's wife walks out of the violence-ridden home with their child seeking divorce and Neelu stands up to her husband's occasional brutality.
Strong symbolism adds to the visceral oeuvre—brushing and noisy spitting by the men in the family, and Titli throwing up towards the end, as a reaction to the oppression carried within, to a close-up shot of the family toothbrushes. The film uses several tracking shots to tell the story from the protagonist's point of view, as well as ambient sounds to add to the realism.
The casting is brilliant, Sial looks every part a ruffian carjacker, as does Lalit Behl playing the opportunistic father. Produced by Dibakar Banerjee and Yashraj Films, this is a praiseworthy debut by director Kanu Behl who is said to have used news reports of a carjacking gang in Delhi as well as elements from his own family life for the script.
After imbibing a lifetime of distrust and barbarity, Titli is touched by his wife's spot of faith in him, leading to—spoiler alert—a chance at redemption. Titli is an important film of the times, capturing the disturbing churning of a developing society's underbelly.
Director: Kanu Behl
Cast: Shashank Arora, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shivani Raghuvanshi