The year in review

Best of Bollywood 2015 countdown: ‘Titli’

In the first of a series, we present the year’s best Hindi films and ask their directors to take us through the most compelling sequences.

2015 was a good year for midstream cinema, with several releases that combined the realism of arthouse films with the crowd-pleasing aspect of the average putative blockbuster. Movies with believable plots, characters and narrative styles all emerged over the year alongside sequels and mass entertainers. A critique of family values and morals was one of the midstream’s recurrent themes, which is not surprising given the largely middle-class backgrounds of the directors. On our list of the best releases of 2015 are some of these titles, at least one outright entertainer and two films that didn’t attempt to mollycoddle watchers with simplistic stories and quick-fix solutions.

Titli

The year’s best film is the very antithesis of audience-friendly. Kanu Behl’s Titli is an unrelentingly dark and uncompromising study of domestic hell. Behl’s debut, co-written with Sharat Katariya, is set on the fringes of the national capital in a family of car-jackers. As the titular protagonist tries to escape the family trade and a forced marriage, he finds an unlikely partner in his bride Neelu, whose own secrets intertwine with his ambitions. Behl, who wrote Love Sex aur Dhoka for director Dibakar Banerjee, dispenses with the easy sentimentality that often cobbles similar attempts to explore violence within the family. The mostly silent yet malevolent father represents the systemic abuse that has made a monster out of Titli’s eldest brother Vikram (Ranvir Shorey), while Titli’s transaction-based relationship with Neelu is a grim comment on the new economic order that holds out false promise of economic progress and social mobility. There’s grim beauty to the movie’s refusal to take the easy way out, best expressed in the sequence in which Titli comes up with a way to get Neelu to avoid signing over her fixed deposit account to Vikram: he will break her hand.

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The sequence is set in a service lane, one of thousands in Delhi, that, like so much else about Titli, is based on Behl’s memories and experiences of growing up in the city. “I had memories from my days in the Bengali Market area of a service lane where I came really close to being molested a couple of times as an older boy,” he said.

But the lane in which Titli takes a hammer to Neelu’s wrist is a fake one. “We weren’t getting a service lane, so we created one near Sangam Vihar – the wall behind the characters is a false one, the bricks, the dumpster, the water tanker and the trash have all been added,” the filmmaker said.

The sequence was shot in the middle of the production. A decision by Behl and cinematographer Siddharth Diwan to suggest, rather than show, the actual smashing of the hand was made early on. Previous scenes of violence between Titli (played by Shashank Arora) and Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi) had already been canned by then, including one particularly nerve-wracking moment in which Titli grabs Neelu’s neck. “We had already travelled that journey, and the characters were close enough to arrive at this scene with the right energy and emotion,” Behl said. “It panned out well in the end. Shashank and Shivani are very different as actors – she does her best early on while he is more studied and takes many takes to get to his best. We took our time, and we finished the shoot in about eight hours.”

‘Titli’ clip courtesy Yash Raj Films.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.