Some Indian men are confused and struggle to understand changes to their patriarchal society, amid growing opportunities for women and awareness of sexual violence, film-maker Kanu Behl told AFP in an interview in Cannes.
“The times that we live in create a really confused state for the Indian man because he’s used to being patriarchal,” the first-time director said.
“He’s used to being the dominating person; he’s used to being the breadwinner; he’s used to having a wife who’s performing a certain role and there’s a lot of role playing that happens and suddenly there’s the whole shift in the world outside.”
Behl’s directorial debut, “Titli”, tells the story of a young criminal trying to escape his oppressive family, especially his violent elder brother Vikram who works as a security guard at one of the many new shopping malls springing up all over India.
The film is being shown in the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious new talent section, along with films by other first time directors such as Canadian star Ryan Gosling.
Behl said the fatal gang-rape of a young student in New Delhi in December 2012 had an influence on his film as it happened as he and co-writer Sharat Katariya were putting together their first draft.
That crime, which sparked an international outcry, had been a watershed in terms of public awareness of sexual violence against women, he said.
A series of mass protests following the rape prompted the government to amend the law, allowing for harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty for repeat offenders.
Behl said it prompted him to ask where such violence might come from.
He and Katariya found themselves exploring the two worlds shown in the film — India’s burgeoning shopping malls and the family, which he called a “fire-breathing monster” in which violence was often as much psychological as physical.
Stressing that he was not making excuses for anyone, he said it led them to reflect on “the world of the consumer, the world of ‘the haves’ and the ones who are on the fringes and the anger and frustration that is built by seeing that shiny polished world for eight hours a day as a security guard and then going back to that other world (of home life in a poor neighbourhood).
“The anger builds up because he wants all that for himself too,” he said, referring to his character Vikram.
Behl’s film is the only Indian movie at Cannes in what has been a thin year for Asian films with only one — “Still the Water”, by Japan’s Naomi Kawase, competing for the top Palme d’Or prize.
Last year, Cannes feted a “new generation” of Indian film-makers.
Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox” and Anurag Kashyap’s “Ugly” were shown on the sidelines of the festival in the independently-run Critics Week and Directors Fortnight respectively.
They were joined by fellow directors Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar, who along with Kashyap presented four short films to mark the centenary of Indian film.
The Mumbai-based film-maker said a growing number of movies that did not fall into the Bollywood category were being made.
“There are young brave film-makers who are doing some really, really interesting work. We are just about beginning to find our voice, a voice that is uniquely Indian, that is about us, that is not borrowed European, that is not from any other cinematic influence like the Koreans, like the Iranians,” he said.
“We are finally coming into our own and we are telling stories that are really rooted to our own culture and come from the language and from the milieu.
“I think how these voices get refined will be interesting. I’ll be really keenly waiting for all these guys’ second films including my own,” he added.