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Tribhanga asks if it is possible to achieve perfection in motherhood and why are women expected to put motherhood before ambitions.
Renuka Sahane’s Tribhanga is an engaging tale of three women across different generations. The three women are Nayan Apte (Tanvi Azmi), a renowned writer, her daughter Anuradha (Kajol) a Bollywood actor and an Odissi dancer and Anu’s daughter, Masha (Mithila Palkar), a homemaker expecting her first child. While the three women are connected by blood, there are as different from one another as chalk and cheese!
Fifteen minutes into the movie, we understand the troubled relationship between Anu and Nayan. It is sour to the extent that Anu doesn’t even refer to Nayan as ‘Aai,’ the Marathi word for mother and instead calls her by her first name. Even as Anu rushes to the hospital where Nayan is admitted after passing into a coma, she does it as a matter of duty without any anxiety or concern about her mother.
Another important character in the movie is Milan, essayed by Kunaal Roy Kapoor, an ardent fan of Nayant Apte. He has been commissioned by Nayan to work on her biography since she is unable to type owing to arthritis. Milan is present at the hospital every day with Anu. And every attempt he makes to get her to talk about her mother for the biography is rudely snubbed with vulgar ‘gaalis’ by the easily triggered Anu.
Giving away bits and pieces of the story and lives of the women in a non-linear style, the movie explores their personalities, life choices and personal struggles. On one end of the spectrum, we have Nayan Apte, whose life choices stem from her passion for writing. She derives her identity from being a writer, rather than a mother. This breaks her marriage and she chooses to raise her children Anu and her adopted son Ravindro on her own.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum is Masha, who yearns for a secure family bond and life within social acceptance, unlike her mother and grandmother. She doesn’t mind willingly adjusting into an ultra-conservative household and a joint family where women are supposed to wear a ghoonghat at all times.
Nayan and Masha have different visions and ideals for life. While Nayan values a woman’s freedom and self-actualisation more, Masha values family and security more. However, they are both composed and level-headed, something that Anu is not.
Anu occupies the most screen time and yet, she is the character we understand the least. In her own words, she is Tribhanga – Tedhi, Medhi and Crazy. Her personality is shaped by hate and resentment that she primarily feels for her mother. She shares a good bond with her daughter and finds her Ikigai in her dance. However, she is unable to outgrow the bitterness she feels towards her mother and the memories of sexual harassment she suffered as a kid at the hands of her mother’s second husband.
Anu can’t seem to form meaningful relationships with men and does everything for her daughter that she believes her mother failed to do for her. She gives Masha a protective environment to grow in, which she felt was lacking in her own childhood.
The movie raises some pertinent questions as to why are women expected to put their motherhood before their ambitions. Something that is not the case with men. An ambitious man is not resented by his children but acts as a role model to them, why is an ambitious mother burdened with the guilt of not being a perfect mother? We saw this theme explored in the recent movie, Shakuntala Devi as well.
Tribhanga also makes us wonder if it is possible to achieve perfection in motherhood. A mother can only read the child’s needs from what she lacked while growing up and make an attempt to over-compensate for that in her child’s life.
For instance, Nayan gave Anu the freedom she was deprived of and Anu gave Masha the protection and warmth she felt lacked in her life. But Anu fails to realise that Masha still had an unhappy childhood and had to deal with the societal taunts of being an illegitimate child.
As for the acting, Kajol was loud and annoying in some parts and sublime in others. Especially in the scenes where she realises she hasn’t been the perfect mother after all, which in turn makes her rethink her judgement of her own mother.
Though Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar have lesser screen time, Tanvi Azmi plays her role as Nayan, effortlessly. She is fantastic as a woman who carries the pride of having lived a life on her own terms while bearing the burden of her children’s resentment.
Renuka Shahane as the director came as a complete surprise to me. It was ironic to see such a progressive and anti-patriarchal tale coming from the woman who, was to me, only the central character in the incredibly regressive ’90s movies Hum Aapke Hain Koun.
However, there are certain gaps in the story-telling that cannot be overlooked. For instance, it is unclear why Nayan didn’t make a sincere effort to reach out to her daughter when she finds out much later about the sexual harassment her daughter faced. Similarly, how did Anu, who suffered similar ridicule in school for her mother’s choices, not realise that her daughter could be going through the same?
It is also difficult to imagine that an ultra-conservative family doesn’t have issues in accepting a girl from a single mother into their family. This is a family that gets gender determination tests done for their daughter-in-law since they don’t want to ‘risk’ another girl in their family. But if you place these gaps aside, we have a deeply satisfying film with a not-so-often explored theme in Indian cinema.
Picture credits: Still from the movie Tribhanga
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Gnanapriya is a Bangalore based Banker, a passionate feminist with a keen interest in philosophy,
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