Written and directed by actor and filmmaker Renuka Shahane, Tribhanga weaves multiple stories of relationships across generations, within families, with its focus specifically on the enigmatic fragile/strong bond between mothers and daughters.
You meet Anu, a Bollywood actor who we are told is also a professional Odissi dancer. More on this, later. Anu, who has a young married pregnant daughter, I’m assuming is at least in her mid to late 40s.
But her actions remain that of someone much younger, in that she’s still mad at her mother and is convinced that her mother ruined her and her brother’s lives. As the story unfolds, you find out what had happened which led her to be resentful at her mother, so resentful that she’s stopped calling her Aai, and continues to mock her, even as the poor woman is in a coma.
Lekin as viewers, until that moment arrives, one can’t be blamed for wanting Anu to just not be so first half of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai-Kajol. You see, everything requires a snappy retort, every situation has a funny face to go along with it, coupled with (because it’s a digital release), lots of gaalis.
Which, frankly, as far as Indian films go, refreshing, but still manages to crossover into not real but sounds like it’s for dialogue purposes. You get to spend some time with her estranged mother Nayan, a celebrated Hindi literature writer who has slipped into a coma.
But before that had happened, she had managed to give a couple of video interviews to a biographer who is writing her life story played by Kunaal Roy Kapur, who talks in Hindi which is less natural and more Dharmendra in Chupke Chupke.
In the mix is also Anu’s young daughter played by Mithila Palkar, Masha, who craves the stable family which neither her mother nor her grandparents provided to her. As you continue to watch the film, it becomes clearer that the intention and the story were in fact better than the screenplay and actual filmmaking you’re watching.
Tribhanga spends too much time giving us backstories, narrated by all the characters to the biographer, instead of taking us into real Pedro Almodovar Pain and Glory-style flashback sequences, subtly complimenting piece flashbacks with continued after effects, showing us how trauma shapes lives and not simply transform into cute little side quirks.
But unlike Pain and Glory, Tribhanga fails to create fully realised human beings beyond quirks and idiosyncrasies afforded to these characters by Renuka Shahane. Once it is established that Nayan is the older repentant parent struggling with loneliness, her daughter Anu, the offspring adult who never quite forgave her mother and then granddaughter Masha, who only wants to get married and have children, the surround sound and other supporting characters and tapestry become dull and unimportant, like, quite fast.
A story of female bonds spanning over 3 generations has the scope to really analyze not just what it is to be a daughter and a mother, but really go into the psyche of regret and lost time. Jo aatmamanthan lagta hai, apni galtiyan accept karke sudhaarne mein, woh Anu ko aise dedh minute mein ho jaata hai.
Lekin unki maa ko, jo kaii saalon se gradually ho raha hai, woh dikhaaya nahi jaata. When do you realise your parents messed you up? At what stage, or after what event into adulthood, do you begin to forgive them? What does it take? Right, that’s the story.
It seemed like Renuka Shahane tried to answer these with Tribhanga, but it just got caught up in the background music, filmi dialogue and frankly, Kajol. Now, Odissi. Kajol is shown to be a Bollywood actor who takes to Odissi dancing much into her adulthood, but has a talent for it.
Sure. But when the film doesn’t bring any flavour from her career as a movie star and an Odissi dancer into the larger story, you can’t help but wonder why were we given that information. She could be a scientist and her back story and present personality would still be pretty much the same.
I see Renuka Shahane’s attempt. I see it and I admire it and I’m glad for it, I’m here for it, to show women so casually just being human. These characters are flawed, weird and far from perfection.
But just because one of them is an atheist, one is an Odissi dancer and another is Baháʼí for unexplained reasons, it begins to feel more checklist than layered and sincere. So, on a scale of 1 to 10, Tribhanga is… 2009 was when Renuka Shahane directed her first film.
12 years ka gap for this second one, it’s truly a miracle putting a film together.