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'Titli' is made to shock the Indian Audience: Dibakar Banerjee

Interview with Dibakar Banerjee

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Ruhi Sinha
October 30, 2015
Dibakar Banerjee

Prolific and highly regarded Indian filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee is proud to wear the Producer’s hat for Titli -the first feature film directed by his protégé Kanu Behl, who assisted him on the much-loved Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (which they also co-wrote).

“As a producer I’m interested in giving birth to a film that’s difficult to give birth to, because it’s the difficult child that does something which history remembers.”, says Banerjee.

On his latest film, that played in the ‘Un Cerain regarde’ section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, Banerjee says, “Titli is made to shock the Indian audience into waking up and showing what goes on amongst our lives. It’s made for all the world cinema audience, who’d love to peep into another culture and find the same ingredients of humanity. Titli is immensely rooted and at the same time it is immensely universal, as it talks about a family, and I don’t think there is any human being on this planet who doesn’t understand what a family is.”

Still from Titli
Still from Titli © Yash Raj Films

What gravitated you to producing Titli?
The screenplay. It was so brilliant that I was actually secretly wishing there was some way, I could direct the movie. But since that wasn’t to be, I chose the next best way to be associated with it!

You’ve said that “Kanu Behl decided that he would rather have this obscure film seen by 3 people, than try and be many things to many people.”. We are seeing a new wave of such independent films getting attention in India, as well as film festivals abroad. What do you think is the reason for this trend?
I think what’s happening is that a new audience has emerged in India over the last 10 years. In fact, films like Khosla ka Ghosla, Black Friday, Maqbool have kind of paved the way for an audience which can actually go out and see these films in the cinema hall and make them profitable or viable, side-by-side with big budget Bollywood blockbusters. I think it’s the emergence of a new open audience and also the emergence of the new multiplexes. The new kind of distribution strategies that are now available and the emergence of the corporate studios which are funding these films -all contribute to this trend.

“A new audience has emerged in India over the last 10 years.”

Titli is your third film situated in Delhi, after Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!. What gives you this strong bond with the city?
Actually, it’s just luck. Accident of chance. I was born in Delhi. So basically, it’s a city that I know really well. I would rather pick something that I understand well than find something that I don’t know very well. And it’s the same with Kanu because for his first film, he really wanted something which was as truthful and as authentic as possible in its depiction. So he chose a city and a milieu that he knew very well.

How do you feel being a producer vs. a director? Did you enjoy it as much?
Oh I feel much better. I’ve to work a lot less! Most of my films, I produce as well as direct. So just producing and not directing is a huge plus.

“In India, there is an extremely overdeveloped star system. Anything that does not have stars, is extremely difficult to get to the people when it comes to promotion.”

Still from Titli
Still from Titli © Yash Raj Films

When you decide to go with unknown faces in lead roles, what are your marketing challenges, as a producer? How do you draw attention to your film?
The challenges are huge. In India, there is an extremely overdeveloped star system. And everything is almost sycophantic towards the stars. What happens is that anything that does not have stars, is extremely difficult to get to the people when it comes to promotion. The media, in the beginning, would rather not touch something that doesn’t have big stars. The same goes for television channels, radio stations and other media outlets. But again, over the last 10 years, things have changed and directors are now being known for their own merit. People are going to see films sometimes not because of the stars but because of the director who has made those films. So things are slowly changing and therefore we are kind of finding a new window.

Your films always have impeccable casting. Everyone just fits the role like it was written specially for them. What is your casting process?
Actually, there is nothing special except that we audition a lot. We keep auditioning over and over and we keep looking at new people from theater and from local theater in all kinds of cities. Atul Mongia who did the casting and workshops for Titli, also did the casting for Love, Sex Aur Dhokha which was a completely new kind of film that featured all new faces. Kanu, Atul and me belong to the same process -to start something new, to give the audience a set of established stars or established character actors and mix them with absolutely new faces. It definitely gives a kind of a zing and freshness to the film.

The acting in your films is very natural and fluid. Do you let your actors improvise on set?
It depends on the scene and it depends on the director. I know that Kanu workshopped so much with the actors of Titli that they already knew how much they could improvise and how much they had to stick to the lines. So it is a combination.

You are one of the few filmmakers who does not take the easy, lucrative route of making potboiler, Bollywood films. But if you had to make a mega-budget dream project like Anurag Kashyap did Bombay Velvet, what kind of film would that be?
Well, it would be the script that I’m going to fire upon. And regardless of whether it is 200 crores or 2 crores, I’ll make it, if I can find the money. I never really think of the budget. I actually think of the script and what I want to do with it. And then I start thinking of how to make it in the cheapest way without compromising the quality.

“Titli is the kind of film which really encourages the audience to think for themselves.”

Still from Titli
Still from Titli © Yash Raj Films

Why should audiences go and watch Titli this weekend?
You know, Titli is the kind of film which really encourages the audience to think for themselves. So you know what, I completely leave it to the audience to base their decision on whatever they are hearing about the film, whatever they’re seeing -the trailer, the buzz around it or the actors. They may know that the film has done amazingly in several parts of the world and in France it is the second largest Indian Independent film after The Lunchbox. If they want to see something that is extremely different and extremely engaging at the same time, I would recommend Titli.
But at the same time, for all the expats out there, if they want to see something that fulfills their nostalgia of the India that they left behind 20 years ago, then I would advise them to probably stay away from Titli. I’m warning them that this is India today and not the India that they left behind and are nostalgic about.

Titli releases today in theaters nationwide. It was nominated for Caméra d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and won Best Film at the Seattle South Asian Film Festival and SAIFF, New York. Dibakar Banerjee won the National Film Award for Best Film for ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ (2007) and ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!’ (2009). Nearly all his 7 films have an average critic score of above 6.5 on The Review Monk -a rare record.

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