They Had to ‘Declassify’ Me For This Role in Titli
Ranvir Shorey’s comic timing is a thing of legend, but with debut director Kanu Behl’s Titli, we see him tapping into a different side to bring forth an engaging and powerful performance. We catch up with the versatile actor for some context.
How did Kanu Behl approach you, and how did you come on board Titli?
I’m very approachable ya. (laughs) We had a common friend, Sharat Katariya, who’s co-written the film, and I’d met Kanu before several times, but of course, it was when he turned up with a script like that, it was really something.
What was the experience of working on the film like?
It wasn’t an easy shoot. We had extensive workshops to develop the relationship between the characters onscreen. They had to work on us as actors individually, too. They had to try and declassify me, so they worked on that as well. It’s been my one-point agenda to do roles that were as diverse as possible, since I started acting. This definitely adds to that.
Atul Mongia was fantastic with his workshops, and he and Kanu worked really hard on all our performances. Not just in terms of our onscreen relationships, but we all had our individual quirks that needed to be moulded and at times, rectified.
How did these workshops conducted by Atul Mongia and Kanu Behl shape your final performances?
I think Shashank and I were a little too hip to play our roles. There’s a certain oppression in the body language of our characters that we had to consciously try and adopt. I think everyone should try acting workshops just to pick up on these little things, these non-verbal clues, and how they add up in a character. The way you walk, the way you sit, the way you speak… these things all say a lot about you and they’re not easy to break.
It needs a lot of time and energy to let these seep into your system, they don’t come naturally. Atul really worked hard on that.
Kanu Behl apparently wrote your character keeping you as an actor in mind. What’s your take on this?
Yeah, it was surprising and flattering at the same time, because firstly, it isn’t like anything I’ve played before, and secondly, it was such a great script, about an interesting subject that I personally had some stake in. There’s a certain kind of violence being passed on from generation to generation that the film addresses, that I identified with.
Was there any particular aspect that drew you to the film?
I want this pervasive violence to be a subject of discussion in society, because I find too much of our parenting trivializes violence. At a very early stage, we introduce unnecessary violence into a child’s world, whereas I feel like there’s enough violence that they’ll eventually have to deal with when they grow up.
What is the premise of the story line, and what are some of the complex issues it tackles?
It’s the story of Titli, two older brothers and a father – they all live in a lower class neighborhood in Delhi, the sorts with open naalis and no water. It’s a filthy place. It speaks about a lot of things to do with family, and how sometimes those relationships have become something else altogether. A father and son can have a great relationship, but if you’re whacking the child in rage – how much of a loving father is there in that man? When is that line crossed from disciplining the child to venting out your own range? These are the complex themes that Titli addresses, that needs to be spoken about in society.
Growing up, I was beaten by my father, and I’d wonder if I deserved it to that extent, and at what point it tippled over into something that stemmed from something other than disciplining me. My brothers also beat me up, my grandfather did the same to my father – it’s a chain. I’m a parent myself now, and I think it’s important to understand that your child will never turn out exactly how you want them to. You’re responsible for setting them down the right path, but they’re not smaller versions of you. I believe there are many other ways to discipline a child, and that’s why it’s so important to create this conversation.
What were some of the challenges you faced on shoot?
Like I said, it was a really hard shoot. We had a very small budget to work with, in the most decrepit parts of Delhi, in the peak of summer.
For example, there was one scene where I had to lie down on the road. It was so hot, that I couldn’t, because I’d get burnt. What we had to do was lay out a cold, wet cloth on the ground so it cooled, and then quickly remove it, roll cameras and lie down on it and shoot, shoot, shoot, before it heated up again. If I lay there too long, I’d get burnt.
Your comic timing in general is impeccable. How hard was it to infuse humor in an otherwise gritty/dark film?
I’m trapped in that now (laughs). People hand you a microphone at parties and tell you to be funny on the spot, when they’ve heard that you have great comic timing.
This is a very different kind of humor though, not the sort to do with comic timing. It’s satirical in parts, where the elements of filmmaking are used to bring it out. It’s not performance-driven, it’s not your dialogues that draw laughter. It’s underlying humour…again, this is something that I can’t speak too much about because I’d like the audience to experience it for themselves.
Could you elaborate on how Titli treats the father-son relationship, and how different it is from other films?
The father-son relationship has been explored by Indian cinema for decades, right from Aag. Many great actors have played these roles and explored the complexities and the darker side of this relationship. Titli has a fresh perspective on it, though. It’s in the treatment of the film, and while I can’t reveal too much about how, I will say that it treats it in a subtler fashion, causing a higher impact.
That’s just better filmmaking.
Thank you, that’s a compliment to Kanu and his vision.