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Titli (The First Monsoon Day)

Posted by martinteller on May 4, 2015

Titli (Konkona Sen Sharma) lives with her mother Urmila (Aparna Sen) and father Amar (Dipankar Dey) on the family’s tea plantation in the mountains of the Darjeeling region.  She’s a typical teenage girl.  And she has a typical teenage crush… on matinee idol Rohit Roy (Mithun Chakraborty).  She dreams of marrying him, and even prays for it.  On a trip to meet Amar at the airport, Urmila and Titli pick up an unusual passenger: Rohit Roy, whose jeep has broken down.  At first Titli’s prayers seem to be answered, but she learns something about Rohit — and her mother — that puts a damper on her dreams.

This is a lovely, understated mother-daughter drama from Rituparno Ghosh.  Ghosh also directed Raincoat, another understated drama, and like this one, it has the feel of a Bergman chamber piece.  The vast majority of the scenes take place in a single day, and the mother-daughter relationship brings to mind Autumn Sonata.  Ghosh isn’t as acerbic — or as psychologically probing — as Bergman, but I don’t think he’s trying to be.  I just can’t help drawing Bergman comparisons sometimes.

The point is, this is a good movie that resonates.  The cinematography isn’t flashy (except during the gorgeous black & white flashbacks, perhaps meant to evoke the old classics) but Ghosh knows when to let the actors do the talking and when to let the camera get a word in.  The performances by Sen and Sharma are genuine and moving, no doubt because of their real-life mother-daughter relationship.  There is a particularly striking moment when Urmila’s shawl slips off her shoulders, revealing her nightgown, and Titli is suddenly confronted with the flesh-and-blood sexuality of her mother.  Sharma handles the scene well.  She would also appear in several films directed by her mother, but it’s not mere nepotism… the young lady has talent.  Her portrayal of adolescent desire and disappointment and resentment rings true.

I’ve never seen Chakraborty before, but that’s probably only because my knowledge of Bollywood is so limited.  He’s got over 300 credits to his name.  My understanding is that the role of crushworthy film star is quite appropriate for him.  He also does a fine job, as does Dey (recognizable from Ray’s Enemy of the People).

There’s some interesting use of music as well (though the film is far from a musical).  As the opening credits roll, a simple folk song is heard on the soundtrack.  The lyric for this song later turns out to have special emotional significance, and Urmila sings a variation on it.  Her singing is underscored by some sort of chant, perhaps part of some nearby celebration.  The chant returns at the end.  I am not certain of its significance, but it has an effect nonetheless.  And in one of the flashbacks, I was amused to hear Rohit listening to ABBA’s “Fernando” on the radio.

I was underwhelmed by this movie at first, but it slowly works magic on you.  Compelling, honest and sometimes touching portrait of a mother-daughter relationship, and the frustrations it can present on both sides.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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