In one of the various hard-hitting scenes within the 2014 movie Titli – about a law-breaking, lower-middle-class Delhi household, and a younger man who needs to flee it like a butterfly fleeing a chrysalis – there may be an explosion of violence from the eldest son Vikram. It’s unsettling, claustrophobic, rage-filled, and a lot of the viewer’s consideration will understandably focus on Ranvir Shorey’s visceral efficiency as Vikram – but one’s eyes are drawn additionally to the household patriarch, in white kurta-pyjama, shuffling in and out of the cluttered body, watching this ferocious battle between his sons. He mutters beneath his breath, nonchalantly dips biscuits in his cup of tea whilst folks scream round him; his eyes handle by some means to be droopy and shifty on the identical time.
Lalit Behl performs this small however indelible position (in a movie directed by his son Kanu Behl), and he’s pitch good. For a lot of the narrative, the daddy is within the background – however in his unobtrusive approach he’s retaining a watch on the ability equations throughout the dysfunctional household, and moments like this counsel there may be extra to him than meets the attention. Later, in a telling little trade along with his daughter-in-law, he proposes that the household go collectively to Vaishno Devi, the place he had gone years in the past along with his spouse: “Uske baad maine haath nahin uthaaya kisi pe.” (“After that, I by no means raised my hand on anybody.”)
With out clearly spelling something out, that line – and the insouciant approach by which it’s delivered – hints at a historical past of violence in a household ridden with masculine energies: the impact that his upbringing most likely had on his sons, the fount of the anger and despair that runs by means of the narrative. It offers heft to the movie, and helps us perceive the protagonist and his rise up.
Behl, who died on 23 April aged 71, had a lengthy profession in theatre and tv as actor, director and producer, however his most notable movie performances over the previous decade have been as two differing types of fathers in two high quality, low-key productions. Titli was the primary of these, however the longer position was in Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan, the place Behl performs Daya, a man who believes his time has come, and decides to go to Varanasi with a view to await demise. In the method, he drastically inconveniences his busy son Rajiv, who feels obliged to go alongside for what may very well be an interminable keep. “Tez chalao,” Rajiv tells the cab-driver when they’re on their technique to Varanasi; “Dheere chalo,” the daddy says – I don’t need to die earlier than we get there. The two males, with their contrasting attitudes and priorities, will quickly discover themselves collectively in a place the place time stands nonetheless.
Mukti Bhawan is a true comedy-drama, effortlessly weaving droll little moments into the material of a bleak bigger image – the important disappointment imbuing the story is just felt with hindsight. And in the identical approach that Behl’s efficiency in Titli manages to be each placid and faintly menacing, his efficiency right here seamlessly covers two modes. On the one hand, there may be the poignant seriousness of Daya’s want to arrange for his finish; on the opposite hand, there may be the surreal impact this proclamation has on his household, particularly his son. In a scene halfway by means of the movie the place Daya thinks he’s dying ultimately, he expresses regret to Rajiv for having poured chilly water on his childhood goals: “You used to write down such harmless poetry, however I by no means allow you to bloom. I’ve been such a unhealthy father.” Behl’s work right here accommodates each the tenderness of this “deathbed” second in addition to the sheepishness of the morning after when Daya – nonetheless very a lot alive and feeling higher – replies with a nod of his head and “Match” when his son asks how he’s.
The heavy-lidded eyes with simply the trace of a twinkle in them, the shuffling stroll, the quiet gesture, the figuring out humour, the gaze that manages to be piercing and laidback without delay. These are important sides of this efficiency as a man who is supposedly releasing himself of worldly issues however nonetheless complains concerning the tastelessness of the meals given to him – a man who finds companionship and banter, issues to reside for within the metropolis of salvation. As a father or mother, Daya is a pest but additionally a instructor and a religious information, exhibiting his son the slower, extra contemplative aspect of life – and finally encouraging Rajiv to be a higher father or mother to his personal younger daughter.
In this sense, Behl’s efficiency appears like a complement to his Titli position the place the daddy’s lack of empathy or sensitivity appears to have completely contaminated his household.
“Mrityu ek prakriya hai,” Daya is instructed at one level. “Demise is a course of – are you prepared to start that course of?” It feels painful to rewatch Mukti Bhawan simply now, when the grotesque second wave of COVID-19 has – briefly, one hopes – made nonsense of the concept that dying might be a leisurely, rigorously planned-out endeavour. There’s such a stark distinction between a story about ready for weeks in a Varanasi “salvation resort” and a real-world state of affairs the place demise comes swiftly, and COVID-19 protocols should be coldly adopted with no elaborate or private farewells – the world that Behl himself departed from.
Checked out on this new context, each the plaintiveness and the darkish comedy of Mukti Bhawan grow to be sharper, extra pronounced and fast. And Behl’s efficiency – as a man who is sensible and cussed, parental and childlike, composed and annoying, all on the identical time – anchors the movie, giving it humanity and permitting us to purchase into its greatest conceit: that demise might be dignified even when the street resulting in it’s full of missteps and potholes. It’s a helpful thought within the present time.