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In break from Bollywood, India's Cannes contender tackles Delhi's darker side

By Rollo Ross

CANNES France (Reuters) - A film that breaks with Bollywood and delivers an atypical dose of social realism that left its leading actor feeling depressed during shooting is India's only contender at this season's Cannes festival.

"Titli", by Kanu Behl, which tackles the family violence and poor treatment of women that blight Indian society, is one of 19 films competing in the 'Un Certain Regard' category for emerging directors, with prizes to be handed out on Friday.

Behl's first feature as director follows the quiet and withdrawn Titli - 'butterfly' in Hindi - who is desperate to break from his all-male family of car-jackers living in a suburban slum but finds every exit blocked and every dream destroyed.

    "It is for me a film that takes on the Holy Grail of Indian cinema, which is the family, and says 'Hey look! There's all this happening and why aren't we talking about it?'" Behl, who had previously worked on documentaries, told Reuters TV.

To try to live a better life and earn extra money, Titli's brothers and father arrange a marriage to Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), an intelligent and attractive girl who also finds her dreams shattered and looks set to spend her life surrounded by violent men.

    The pair contrive to escape their similar situations, away from the ears and eyes of violent brothers.

The film, which maintains a documentary feel, strives to make the viewer "feel the violence and get a sense of why these people are behaving in the way they are," Behl added.

    Actor Shashank Arora, who plays Titli, admitted that the gritty subject matter, rarely seen in Indian cinema, made him feel "very depressed" during the shoot, in which he appears in every scene.

    "There is so much violence back home in India and there is a lot of harassment against women and that's just the beginning of it and I think we're just skimming the surface with this film," he said.  

"I think we're just beginning to find ourselves and beginning to find the stories that are really Indian and not Bollywood cinema and we're really trying to explore and look within ourselves and find where does this come from, where does this violence stem from."

Eschewing the glamour, frivolity and fairy-tale endings of Bollywood cinema, the backdrop of "Titli" is the teeming slums outside Delhi where millions struggle to survive day to day.

"There are these two separate worlds. There is a world of the 'haves' that are going to the malls in India who are consuming more and more ... and then there is in that world the 'have nots' who are there to serve these other people," Behl said.

"There are almost like satellite cities all around the big city now where these people go back to and it's about going back to that and living those 12 hours which are so different from the other 12 hours you see every day."

(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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