‘Tribhanga’: exploring the mother-daughter dynamic

Renuka Shahane’s upcoming Netflix flick starring Kajol, Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar will have you re-examining your relationship with your mother

At a time when notions of motherhood are being subverted in literature and in film comes Tribhanga — Tedhi Medhi Crazy, written and directed by Renuka Shahane. It pries open the complex dynamic between three generations of mothers and daughters with generous helpings of humour, chutzpah, and grace. Mothers falter. They fail. They are fallible. It is important to not judge them for it, the film appears to say.

The upcoming Netflix film marks Kajol’s digital debut, playing a famous actor and Odissi dancer Anu, who resents her writer mother Nayan (Tanvi Azmi). Added to the mix is Anu’s daughter, Masha (Mithila Palkar), who is about to have a baby. Shahane, who adores Odissi, uses it as a metaphor for her characters. Anu describes Nayan as the slightly off-centre pose ‘abhang’, Masha as the in-balance ‘sama-bhang’, and herself as ‘Tribhanga’, the pose with three bends at varying angles.

Not always perfect

The story, says Shahane over a warm, laughter-filled Zoom conversation, along with Kajol and Azmi, came from a desire to explore how our relationships with the mother figure affects our journeys, especially when we become mothers. “For me it is a very strong relationship and for everything I am today, I would thank my mother [writer Shanta Gokhale]. When I was doing [TV show] Surabhi, I had met someone who mentioned that after her marriage she was so glad to get out of her premarital home, because she hated her mum. I was stunned by that admission. Meeting her was the beginning of the story.”

At the core of the story is Anu’s resentment of her mother’s unconventional decisions that she believes ruined her life. “Then Masha followed because I wanted the intergenerational difference… The characters were with me since 2013 and I wrote a million drafts before I narrated it to Kajol,” says Shahane. Though not autobiographical, the film does have some moments from the director’s life, as it is set in a familiar cultural milieu occupied by writers, dancers and their entourage.’

Telling it like it is

What drew Kajol to the film is the way the three lives and relationships are woven together. “Every scene is so well written,” she says. She related to the characters of both Anu and Nayan. “I’ve always had strong women around me — like my mother and my grandmother — who made non-conformist decisions and encouraged that in me as well,” she adds. Much of the film’s energy comes from Anu’s outbursts against her mother, and things come to a head when Nayan suffers a stroke and Anu is forced to re-examine her long-held beliefs.

“The script is the hero of the film,” says Azmi, adding that she found it fascinating how “Anu is almost actually exactly like her mother, which she doesn’t realise till she has a daughter of her own”. And indeed, the film counters the image of the perfect, self-sacrificing mother we’ve long held on to.

So what does motherhood mean to the three women off screen? For Shahane, “Motherhood has never been what was projected in a small box by society. There is so much pressure to be that kind of mother. I have never seen my mother like that. She has been non-conformist, warm and amazing.”

Meanwhile, Kajol quips that motherhood is like being an intern forever, always learning on the go. What they hope the audience takes away from the film is the idea that women, whether they are mothers or not, need to be appreciated as human beings. And to not expect mothers to be demi-gods who know the answers to everything and do everything perfectly, adds Azmi.

Looking inwards

Did working on Tribhanga make them reflect on their own relationships with their mothers and children? “My mother is the only person in the world who understood me, spoke my language and still does. We are not putting up a strict manual saying if you don’t do this right, you are wrong. You aren’t wrong, you are just different,” says Kajol.

It is perhaps natural that the process of making the intense, unfiltered family drama has been a cathartic experience. “Playing a part, crying in front of a 100 people on set is always cathartic,” says Kajol. For Shahane, it was the culmination of a long journey. “I wanted people to look at the characters, forgive them, and not judge them for their actions. I wanted the expectations that I have as a mother from myself to be kinder and more compassionate. I could look at myself with a little more grace.”

Gearing up for the digital release, the actors believe this intimate film was meant for OTT viewing. Kajol is thrilled to not have to worry about box office pressure. However, Shahane is all keyed up. “The scary part is, you are presenting your baby and some people are going to say, ‘thodi si ugly hai na, naak ka naksha thoda alag hota to… (it doesn’t look so great, if only some parts were different),” she laughs, concluding that she is “looking forward to the response because that’s the end to any creative process”.

Tribhanga releases on Netflix on Jan 15

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