A news report in 2011 on a gang of car jackers in Delhi led by a local tough, Joginder Joga, got Kanu Behl thinking about a plot for a thriller. Once he started writing, though, it became a story about the Joga-like character and his two brothers, and the dynamic between them. As the story evolved, a father, a household and a ghost of a family member were introduced as well. By the time Behl was done writing the script, the film that had started out as a thriller had become a complex story about patriarchy and family, with Joga as the only trace of the original storyline.
“It’s a subject that resonates with everyone. We all turn into our mothers and fathers. The film explores this ‘circularity’ which exists within each family,” says Behl. Titled Titli, Behl’s directorial debut, which is the official selection of the prestigious Festival de Cannes in the Un Certain Regard category, looks at this family dynamics through the story of Titli, the youngest member of a violent gang of car-jackers. He realises over time that while trying to escape the family business, run by his elder brother Vikram, he has turned into the oppressive sibling he so detests.
The film, produced by Yash Raj Films and Dibakar Banerjee, first started to draw attention last year at the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) Bazaar in Goa, where it won an award for Best Work-In-Progress Lab Project and was selected for Film Bazaar Recommends — as a part of which select films are screened for interested buyers and film curators. It’s also where members of the Cannes selection committee first saw the film.
Seated at a coffee shop in suburban Mumbai, Behl plays out portions of the film on his laptop. The film is set in Delhi’s underbelly, a world that is both real and symbolic. The script’s evolution, says Behl, began when he, with co-writer Sharat Katariya, started to question if the film was really a thriller or about the oppression faced by Titli from his indignant elder brother.
In seeking the answer, Behl started to sift through his own experiences. “I realised that the difficult relationship I had shared with my father while growing up is not unique to my experience. I was a young boy trying to find myself and he had his own ideas about what I should be. Over time, I realised that while I escaped him, I hadn’t escaped my roots,” says Behl. That realisation made him look at the three brothers differently: was Vikram the oppressor or the oppressed?
While Behl may have explored one aspect of it in Titli, his roots have defined his journey so far. The 33-year-old’s parents are veteran thespians (writer-actor-directors Navnindra and Lalit Behl) and so, his relationship with the visual medium started early. “My parents would act in and direct telefilms for Doordarshan. As a result, I grew up on continued…