Titli (was supposed to be born a girl, hence the name - played by Shashank Arora), the youngest of three brothers, wants to escape his family's "profession". The eldest, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey), is a security guard at a shopping mall, and the second Pradeep (Amit Sial) does some odd jobs. But they are all carjackers. Violent and sometimes foolish carjackers.
An unsuspecting Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi) is married off to Titli. On the night after her wedding, Titli tries to force himself on her and she fights him off for a disturbingly long time. The guy just doesn't give up when she makes it quite clear she doesn't want it. The next day, her brothers-in-law hammer a guy's head splattering a pint of blood right in front of her causing her to wet her pants.
When Dibakar Banerjee made Khosla Ka Ghosla
and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye
, people raved about how "real" the Delhi he depicted was. Later when he made Love, Sex Aur Dhoka
, there were complaints that it was "too real" (the funniest responses, though, were from the people who were convinced that it was a B-grade film). By that yardstick, Kanu Behl's (director, and Banerjee's erstwhile assistant) Titli makes his mentor's work look like Disney productions.
The frames carry the dusty look of the corrosive metropolis the film is located in. There is a brilliant montage (set to a highly effective background score) which ends with a shot of an under-construction mall against the blues of the post-twilight sky. You can barely see the sky as it is encroached upon by the edifice. The art direction makes itself inconspicuous as the movie looks like it was shot in an actual house of a security guard and a car mechanic. Indeed, when you have to describe Titli, you have to go beyond the word "real". Authentic is what comes to mind.
There is violence, of course. Titli and his brothers are carjackers who hammer their victims' heads and take off with the cars. But even then, when offered twenty lakh rupees for killing a man, they hesitate. The eldest brother utters in bewilderment that they had never killed anybody so far. This reluctance to murder gives the extra shock to the violence. We are so used to people getting killed in movies, it hits us when a usually violent criminal balks at the prospect of murder.
The best thing about movies like Titli however is the female characters. We see women who aren't solely eye candy or cloyingly kindhearted. Titli's sister-in-law is angling for alimony although he begs her to wait for some time so he can find his own way. It doesn't make her a "bad" person. She has suffered abuse and she's placing her priorities above those of anyone else.
Then, Neelu, Titli's wife, is keen on running away with her lover Prince, a married builder, and makes a deal with Titli that she'll pay him "fees" to house her while she plans to escape with her lover. This is a foolish idea, sure. But the foolishness is gender-free in this film. Every one does one stupid thing or the other. The thing that's ultra-cool about Neelu is how feistily she makes and sticks to her plans. They are her plans, stupid or otherwise.
Shivani as Neelu and Shashank Arora as Titli fit their roles like they were born into them. Ranvir Shorey and Amit Sial are extraordinary as the men being eaten up by anxiety and stress. Lalit Behl, as the unmindful father who's possibly the reason for the dysfunction in the family, delivers a dryly humorous performance. Everyone is in top form, and there isn't a single false note anywhere.
The movie slowly progresses towards a catharsis towards the end, and that itself is rather underplayed keeping in form with the rest of the film. It is like how terrible things happen all the time around us and we aren't particularly impacted - life keeps moving whether we pay attention or not. Everything in the film also plays similarly. You aren't completely insensitive to the events nor are you pulled into feeling the drama. Whether this is a conscious choice or not, this lack of fuss works in favour of Titli bringing about a texture of "reality" which is intangible but existent.
However, this and the indifference to entertainment (which Banerjee would always slip in his films for good measure) can make Titli a difficult watch. This is one of those movies where the director is doing their own thing and we're merely invited as spectators, not consumers. If you are quite clear with yourself that your ticket money doesn't have to translate into certain euphoria, you can watch Titli for its splendid storytelling and also the mostly bitter story it has to tell.