BizAsia talks to director Kanu Behl about ‘Titli’

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Yash Raj Films and Dibakar Banerjee Productions’ ‘Titli’ has received rave reviews around the world at various film festivals, even bagging awards. Director Kanu Behl is debuting with the film which is a story about a family who are criminals and their the youngest offspring Titli’s desire to move away from that world. With newbie actors – main lead roles essayed by Shashank Arora and Shivani Raghuvanshi – is all the roles apart from one, which is played by Ranvir Shorey, the film seems as fresh as it is raw and poignant to its name.

BizAsia spoke to Behl about the film.

Kanu Behl

It�۪s really exciting that your film is about to release. Did you ever expect such a huge response at the festivals?

Not at all. It was a film made for India. I had always wanted to make a film for Indian audiences. It�۪s a very Indian story, you know, but I think somewhere along the line it became really universal, it transcended the original coming-of-age story that I had thought it will become. I had started out wanting to do this film about this kid who wants to run away from an oppressive older brother but I think somewhere along the line, as we started exploring the screenplay, it became about the family and about the equations between all the members of the family;

I think that makes it universal because families are everywhere. Whether it is somewhere in Canada or it�۪s in London, or it could be somewhere in Tokyo, it is the most basic unit that all of us have as human beings. That is how people everywhere have connected in a completely different country, in a completely different culture, with a different language. I was so busy making the film very honestly, I hadn�۪t ever thought about it. Whatever has happened in the last year and a half is a surprise, and a pleasant one at that I would say.

You�۪ve co-written the story, is that correct?

Yes, I�۪ve co-written it with Sharat Katariya.

Did you ever think that you wanted a different director to take it on or did you always think you would direct it?

No, actually, I am more of a director than a writer. I wouldn�۪t really call myself a writer anyway; I don�۪t have a huge body of work, the only thing that I have written before this is ��Love Sex Aur Dhokha�۪ (2010). So, I think I have always been more of a director and I am someone who would like to be involved with the writing of my own film. ��Titli�۪ was something that I always intended to direct, right from the beginning. It just happened that it was a story so close to me and it had so much of me in it that it made sense to be a part of the writing process with Sharad. I think I�۪ll mostly end up meddling in the screenplay of whatever films I do. Honestly, I�۪m more of a director I think.

You have cast newcomers in some of the pivotal roles in the film. Why did you decide to do that?

When we finished scripting this, we knew that we had a very, very real film on hand. We had something that had to be done a certain way. Otherwise, it would feel really fake. I had the idea that I wanted to almost make it feel like a documentary and make you feel like you had accidently captured someone�۪s life and the camera just happened to be there, it was real life playing in front of you and any other way would not have worked at all. So, the choice was to always take fresh faces, new faces, someone who wouldn�۪t be encumbered with their star-presence or their recognition as an actor. Now, what happened parallel to me and Sharad writing, we really got sold on the idea of having Ranvir (Shorey) as the elder brother and that actually increased our problem because Ranvir is a known-face. Once we had decided on Ranvir, it even more necessitated that everyone around should be first timers or completely unseen to be able to help him to hide in the film too. There was only one way we could do it ��� which was with first timers.

As you said, Ranvir is the only known actor in the film. What did he bring to the film that perhaps would not have been there if you had chosen to have a debutante in his role as well?

I think his absolute madness, his passion. He�۪s a very passionate guy and he has a very masculine energy about him. In many ways it�۪s a film about patriarchy, violence, it�۪s a film about these four men in the house and how they live their life till this girl walks into their lives. Ranvir�۪s character in the film is the most ���male�۝ of all these and it needed a certain madness and energy. I have been a huge admirer of his work since the early days. He is an actor who is really untapped and not really done a dramatic part like this. All those traits, the fact that he would be really hungry because it is something he hadn�۪t done, the challenge would be both ways. Not only would it be challenging for me to work with him but it would be challenging for him to do this; that coupled with his own presence and the way he deals with himself in real life, because me and Sharad knew him outside of him as an actor, that really helped us decide that he would be right for the part.

Titli Still 3

How did the production come about? How did you get Dibakar Banerjee Productions and Yash Raj Films (YRF) on-board?

Well, Dibakar I�۪ve had a really long relationship with now. I�۪ve known him for eight years. I did ��Oye Lucky Lucky Oye�۪ (2008) and then ��Love Sex Aur Dhokha�۪ with him. I had been bouncing off the script and idea to him right since the beginning, so he knew of it, and independently ��Titli�۪ went to the Screen Writers Lab and there was a point where the screenplay was getting talked about a lot. A lot of different people had read it and were interest in it. I know Adi (Aditya Chopra) had read it independently and he had really liked it. Around the time me and Dibakar were sort of closing on the fact that we will do this together, that he would produce it and I would direct it, coincidently YRF had approached Dibakar for a three-film deal and since YRF already knew of the film, ��Titli�۪ became a part of the three-film slate which YRF did with Dibakar.

It’s been said that you didn�۪t really have a steadfast script when you were shooting for the film. Did the film turn out exactly as you wanted it on paper?

Well, we did have a script. It was just that it was the second option for every day. The idea was not to just make it a passive experience and make it an exercise of shooting a written theme. What we had already done in the workshops were things that were actually not written, workshopping around the script, build experiences for the actors, it just compresses the lives of these characters, of those 30 years or 50 years, whatever age the character was. Just compress it in those two-three months and build as many experiences around the screenplay as possible, so that on the day when the actor came in to do the scene we were doing that morning, they weren�۪t really doing the scene, they were doing the unseen and the scenes between the lines which came from all the workshopping and all the scenes that were done in the exercises, which were never a part of the screenplay or the film. That gives the process another role, a completely different kick by itself, because not only are you recreating, you�۪re almost creating again on-set. That was always the idea ��� to go ahead and try to breathe new life into the scenes on the morning of the shoots, but we always had the script as a back-up. It was a film made on limited means, it was a small budget film, so the days we were in trouble, we always had the screenplay to fall back into; most of the time, we fortunately did not need to.

Some of the reviews that I�۪ve read from around the world, from the various film festivals that ��Titli�۪ has gone to, have touched upon the darkness and gloominess of the house that the story is centred on, where you said the four brothers are. When you were writing the story, is that something that you knew you would want to do?

Yes, very much so. It was always meant to be a film about oppression. I like to have a single feeling that is driving the film and the film is very much about oppression, and all kinds of oppression, whether it�۪s within relationships and how people behave within relationships, or whether it is the oppression of the world that seeps into the microcosm of the house. It was always written and thought about as a complete piece on oppression and whatever claustrophobia, the lack of space and the grime, the dust or the darkness, it was always part of the piece as we were writing it.

You�۪ve cast your father in the film, who is also an actor and a director. What was it like working with him?

You know, so often directors end up romanticising themselves a little bit too much. I think it was like any other relationship. I think the toughest part was actually taking the decision to have him there. We deliberated around it a lot, we auditioned a lot of senior actors and we were trying to find, because it is a silent cast which sort of bursts out into this energy towards the end, it required a sort of latent violence or latent intensity which we weren�۪t really getting from any of the other actors that we were auditioning. At one point, me and my casting director, Atul, sat back and we said, my father would know a lot of the rhythms that we were talking about and the kind of family we were talking about, that might end up helping the film. Once we said, ok let�۪s go for it and we�۪ll see what comes with it, the other part is convincing him. He was a little reluctant as it would be his feature debut, although he is a trained actor from the National School of Drama, he was worried that it is his debut and it was my debut and he didn�۪t want to screw up. Those were the parts that were tough to deal with but once we started working together, then he is an actor-director himself. It was a very professional relationship. As I said, it was a small film with limited resources, I think we were all pulling our energies together to just make sure that the film got to where it should get to, in terms of how we wanted to make it. There wasn�۪t any time, honestly, to spend on anything else.

Just a final question ��� what is next for you, after ��Titli�۪?

I am currently developing a film called ��Agra�۪, which is an Indo-French co-production. It�۪s about a young boy who is madly in love with a girl and is trying to prove to his parents that she actually exists.

BizAsia would like to thank Kanu Behl for taking the time to talk to us. ‘Titli’ film releases on 30th October.

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