Kanu Behl says 'Titli', about a boy's struggle to escape his oppressive elder brother, is a coming-of-age story that explores the patriarchy and the circle of violence running within a family.
Behl assisted director Dibakar Banerjee on 'Oye Lucky Lucky Oye' and co-wrote 'Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD)' before making his feature debut. Now, Dibakar has turned producer for Behl's 'Titli' with Yash Raj Films.
Behl says he was writing another film before "Titli" but he abandoned it midway.
"I was writing another film for a year but I could not make it. I realised that it was a dishonest attempt. A lot was going wrong in my personal life and in panic, I was trying to make just any film. This led to a reassessment and I realised that whatever I write next has to be personal and come from my own experience," Behl told PTI in an interview.
The period of introspection led to 'Titli', which he co-wrote with Sharat Katariya, who made his directorial debut this year with winsome love story "Dum Laga Ke Haisha".
Behl says they kept asking questions, raising doubts and adding details that came from his own experiences to the movie.
"Initially, I wanted to write about this young boy wanting to run away from an elder, oppressive brother which was directly related to some of my experiences while growing up. I had a strained and difficult relationship with my father like many other young boys in North India.
"But a completely different thing opened up and we realised that what we thought was a film about oppression, is about family rhythm, patriarchy and circularity of same images and themes."
The movie, starring Ranvir Shorey, Shashank Arora, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Amit Sial, and Lalit Behl, will release on October 30.
Set in a Delhi slum, the movie is about Titli, the youngest member of a violent car-jacking family and his desperate attempt to escape the family business. The detail about carjackers comes from a news item that Behl read. It helped him create a back-story that would explain the reason behind the anger.
"There was some sort of anger that was travelling from the outside into the house and then from the house to the outside world. Vikram, the elder brother, works as a security guard in a mall for 16 hours. He sees people coming and buying stuff. He sees this world of haves whereas there is no money in his house. How does that person feel?
"The Nirbhaya case had happened at that time and it shocked many. But it was not an isolated case. We were trying to understand the root of that violence. We realised that this external violence of carjacking or this small petty crime was important for us in order to understand this house and its world."
In a way "Titli" became a representative of the desire to break away from one's family, the struggle and sometimes the inability to do so.
"It is a coming-of-age film about this boy who is trying to run away from his house, dominated by strong men. In some sense, he did not identify with that but in the process; he comes up against a side of himself that he did not know well.
It is about this little creature coming out of its cocoon and becoming this key in the end."
'Titli' is riding on a lot of goodwill, thanks to the positive buzz from international film festivals since its premiere at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard category.
Dibakar has been promoting the film enthusiastically on various platforms and Behl says he has been an important part of the journey of making the movie that is totally opposite of the way families are portrayed in Bollywood movies.
Behl says their "cinema ethic" is similar as it is not about "where do we fit in but what we want to say and how we say this best."
"Dibakar has been around since the beginning. When I was writing my first script Dibakar was like 'Why are you writing this film?' I realised may be I need to do something else. We keep bouncing stuff to each other."
Behl has travelled and won accolades at some of the best film festivals globally but he believes the real test of the movie is with the local audience.
"There is more confidence than you would otherwise have because we know that the film works emotionally. The audience in Zurich, Germany, Chicago and Japan could identify with it. That gives you hope. But the real test is here. It is about our lives, very relatable and emotional tale of a family. So, I am keen to know how people respond to the movie here."
After 'Titli', his next project is 'Agra'. The script is already in Film Bazaar Goa that runs parallel to International Film Festival of India.
He is not willing to reveal much but the little brief is enticing enough. "'Agra' is about this young man who is madly in love with this woman and he is desperately trying to prove to his family that she actually exists."