KanuBehl, the co-writer and director of the upcoming YRF-Dibaker Bannerjee co-production TITLI, talked to us about the journey of the film.
With one day left for the release of Titli how are you feeling?
I am very excited. We did not make it for the festivals. Never thought of Cannes. It was always meant for the Indian Audiences. Humari mitti, humare characters, humari kahani… It is all told in a very simple language. I am therefore very curious to see the reactions of the Indian audiences.
How did the germ of Titli come to your head?
I was writing another film for one and a half years and post that spent a considerable time trying to mount it when I realized that I was probably making that film for the heck of making one. I started questioning why I became a film maker in first place and whether I would be achieving it through that film. I had no answers and went into slight depression. I gradually realized that I should be telling a story that has a personally lived-in experience to it. That is more honest and closer to my heart.
I had a very difficult time with my father while growing up. So thought of using that experience into a film. We wrote this story with the character of a very oppressive elder brother which is being played by Ranveer Shorey. After the first draft we (Sharat Katariya & I) started researching more into each character of the house. We wondered why the elder brother would beat up Titli so much. That is how we discovered the father’s character. When we dug deeper into the father’s character we discovered the photo of the grandfather in the house. So that is how Titli slowly grew from a personal story into a more universal theme. It finally became about patriarchy, how men behaved with women, how family members behave with each other. There is an adage that goes like this – “I tried so not to become like my father that I finally became like him”. Titli is all about that.
Both your parents are eminent theater personalities. Yet you intentionally avoided getting into theater or cinema for a very long time. What brought you back into the medium?
I had grown tired of Bollywood. I felt nothing new was coming out of it. It was only when I went to a few film festivals and discovered a lot of International Cinema that my interest grew back. I got access to Kubrick, Kieslowski and Kiarastomi. I felt maybe this is something I would be interested in.
How did the association with Dibaker begin?
I was at SRFTI enrolled in the course of editing. We had a professor who had to give a DVD to Dibaker so he asked me to do it for him. I had shot a documentary which was based in Delhi. It was in its rough cut stage at that time. I handed over the DVD of that rough-cut as well to Dibaker for his feedback as a fellow film maker. Then I completely forgot about it. Dibaker watched my film and called me up saying that he was shooting for a film called Oye Lucky LuckyOye which was set in Delhi and if I would be willing to assist him for the same. I had watched Khosla… and had found it very interesting so readily agreed.
What has been your biggest learning from Dibaker?
The biggest learning from him is his rigour, his discipline. His ability to stay calm in the middle of biggest chaos. Chahe set pe kitna bhi gadbad ho jaaye.. he will not lose his cool. Also, he would push it till the film has reached 200% of its capability. Till it has attained the maximum of what it can achieve as a story. It is only when he is mentally, and not physically, tired of the final product that he lets go of it.
Was it difficult convincing your dad for the role, given that it was inspired heavily from your relationship with him?
We film makers tend to romanticize things a lot. Honestly speaking, itna difficult nahi tha. There was not much drama. We definitely took time in finalizing the cast, but once it was done, approaching him was like any other actor. It was a small film, so even he understood the situation and did not take much time to agree for it. Even on set it was like a normal actor-director relationship.
Lalitji, Shorey and Sial were experienced actors. But Shashank and Shivani were newbies. How difficult was it to direct them in such a gritty and dark film?
With Shivani it was relatively easier. I think she always had this internal desire to be an actress. So her portrayal came across as very easy and natural on screen. Plus wo us class ko, us mahaul ko, us jagah ko jaanti thi. If I told her about a character she could immediately understand ki main kiske bare mein bol raha hunga. She did not need much of a context. The main focus of workshop was that she should not be overwhelmed by the presence of other big actors on set.
With Shashank it was difficult because he belonged to an upper middle class. So a lot of exercises in the workshop were to make him realize Titli’s daily life. His daily humiliations. We have to give a lot of kudos to Shashank too for taking it in good stride and using it to add on to his performance.
Apart from Shashank being actually being actually beaten up during workshops, he was also asked to take a dump by the seaside. Whose idea was all that?
My casting director and I have known each other for a long time. So we instinctively know what the other wants. The dump wala idea was mine, but most of the other things we came up with together. About slapping him for real, we both knew is going to be an extreme step. But we had to take it when we realized that he is not getting the character at all and he needed to undergo this extreme experiences. I still don’t feel it is advisable. It was not something we enjoyed doing. I was extremely reluctant. I personally won’t do it ever again. But at that point of time it was the only way out.
Still at no point of time you people considered about replacing Shashank with another actor?
No. Not at all. We take a long time in deciding upon someone. But once the cast is finalized, come whatever may, we stick to it.
Why did you shoot the film on Super 16?
We were doing a crime story but we were also trying to push it a little bit towards noir. The dust, the grime, since we knew there was going to be a lot of heat in Delhi therefore the sweat… they all come out well in Super 16. The grains bring in a certain emotion which the digital camera unfortunately lacks. Hence the choice.
The movie saw 3 changes in the position of the editor. You were the writer-director of the film. Then what additional thing were you expecting the editor to bring on table which the earlier two couldn’t but Namrata did?
That’s a very tough one to answer. The first editor was a really talented girl. And she did a significant job on the film for the first 6 months she was on board. But after a point, what happens is that you want the scenes to push out to their best ability at the same time wanting the film to be overall as compressed as possible. In this conflict the movie was getting compromised. The process should have been ideally given more time, but it was a small film and the budget did not allow us for that. We did not want to put that much pressure on the film. The editor was also a new girl. So we finally let her go and brought in another person.Within first 2-3 weeks we realized that we were not on same page. So I didn’t want to waste his time and let him go as well. I was really in a soup at that time and hence called up Namrata. Namrata and I have known each other for a long time and she was really generous to come on board immediately. With her involvement, we could finally achieve what we wanted.
The movie premiered at Cannes last year and has since travelled to numerous International Fests. Apart from the acclaim factor, how do these fests help an indie film?
I feel jittery whenever Titli is called an indie. We had YRF on board right from start and they are the biggest distribution force in India. I feel a person like Avinash Arun has seen tougher time with a film like Killa so he would be a better person to answer this.
Since you mentioned YRF, how much did their presence help the film? It was also a first of sorts for them to back a project like this.
Dibaker and I always have this discussion k iaaj ki tareekh mein Hinduastan mein kisi bhi tarah ki film banana mushkil baat nahi rahi, par use sahi logo tak pahunchana zyaada mushkil hai. When it comes to the reach of a film, it is very important that its marketing and distribution is apt. YRF had read the script and had been wanting to do it right from day one since it was a new territory even for them. Adi had personally read and liked the script much before Dibaker had not come on board as a producer. So both Dibaker and Aditya Chopra had individually liked the film and wanted to produce it. Having a big production house like YRF backing your movie is always a relief since you know it would be given the best possible care. So it always helps.
What would be your advice to all aspiring film makers?
Be honest. Don’t lie to yourself.
Titli releases worldwide on 30th October. We at MAM wish Kanu Behl and his entire team all the very best.