In his directorial debut, Kanu Behl takes a leaf from his relationship with his father to turn it into a universal story of rage
When we meet Titli director Kanu Behl at the sprawling Yash Raj studio, the first thing he clarifies is that, inspite of the noir-ish feel of the initial trailers, Titli is not a crime thriller. It’s actually a socio-political comment with a family drama at its core, which the 35-year-old, confesses began as “a personal rant”.
Titli director with his father Lalit Behl at Yash Raj studio. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The inspiration for the story came from his own dysfunctional relationship with his father, Lalit Behl. “My dad and I are at loggerheads over almost everything,” says Kanu with a smile as we settle down for the interview. His parents Lalit, 66, director, producer and actor who produced, directed and acted in Doordarshan telefilms such as Tapish and Sunehri Jild, and Navnindra, 65, who has acted in films like Maachis, Queen and is an award-winning director and producer, also join in.
The new trailers of Titli came out last week and reflect the angst. Kanu’s directorial debut earned the critics’ nod when it was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival last year. Many other awards later, it’s now gearing up to test the waters on the home turf and will be hitting theatres on October 30.
Kanu grew up in a small, cramped house swarming with people. He remembers always having someone breathing down his neck, a problem his main character Titli deals with. His relationship with his father is more complicated. The father-son relationship stems from a deep-rooted anger — something that both binds and distances them. “Ours is a joint family that lost everything but their ideologies during the Partition and began their lives in India penniless, living in camps. The Independent India we dreamt of gave us only poverty and disillusionment.
We as youths were an angry lot. And I guess we unknowingly passed it on to our next generation,” says the patriarch. However, he has no qualms that his son has built the story around their strained relationship. “What better than taking inspiration from your own life?” he says nonchalantly.
One of the major differences the father and son had was over Kanu’s career choices. “Well, I wanted him to start off as an actor,” says Lalit. “According to me, directing a film requires a certain degree of maturity, which I thought Kanu is yet to acquire. I didn’t want him to come up with some nonsense stuff,” he adds.
Things didn’t get any better when his son decided to follow his dreams ignoring his advice. For him, disrespecting one’s elders is akin to a criminal offense. But, when Kanu came to him urging him to act in his directorial debut, he decided to give him a chance. He took up the offer, and that too without reading the script. “Dad had no clue that the role is based on him,” says Kanu, who knew Lalit would be the best for the role. But Lalit reveals that he knew what was in store for him. “We had an extensive workshop. It was no rocket science to decipher that the character was inspired by me.”
Once he saw his son behind the camera helming the project, he knew that his son has chosen the right path. And today he is proud of his son’s achievement, “I am happy for him, but I don’t like the fact that he has proven me wrong,” he complains. Although even today, the difference of opinion between them has not decreased. “They both have become more tolerant.
Maybe somewhere, they have started to understand each other’s perspective, even if they are hardly on the same page,” says Navnindra, who has seen the evolution of anger that binds this family and the film from an uncomfortable proximity.
However, what transformed this semi-autobiographical film to what Kanu prefers to call an ‘autostory’ is the fact that with each draft of the script, the story got new layers, and eventually became a kitchen sink drama about two generations in conflict with each other — their angst, ambition, and disappointments.
“It is not about any incident that happened between my dad and I. With each draft, each character gained more flesh and blood. Each has his own reason to behave the way he does in the film. It is a film about circularity inherent in this family. The dad gets his anger from his dad and in turn, passes on the same anger to his elder son. The one struggling against all this, is Titli —the youngest in the family. But slowly he realises that he can’t escape his genes as he increasingly becomes like one of them. Can he escape his destiny?” Kanu signs off throwing that pregnant question at us as a parting gift.
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