In Renuka Shahane’s second film as a director, Tribhanga, Nayantara Apte aka Nayan (Tanvi Azmi), while narrating the key events of her life to her biographer, Milind (Kunaal Roy Kapoor), suffers a stroke and is rushed to the hospital. Her daughter, the well-known actress, Anuradha Apte (Kajol), who was about to appear in an Odissi dance recital, has to abandon the performance and head immediately for the hospital. As she reaches there, she not only has to face typical how-are-you-feeling questions from the paparazzi but she also discovers her mother is in a coma. What unfolds next are various scenes – both in the present and the past – that explore and try to help us understand this troubled and estranged mother-daughter relationship.
In Tribhanga, streaming on Netflix, the root of the complexities is Nayantara’s character and her identity and the repercussions it has on those around her. Both are woven around her decision of preferring an individual career choice instead of typically suffocating by bowing down to the familial and societal restrictions expected of her. The balance, however, with her charatcerization is not easy as there are undoubtedly times that instead of finding our empathy for wanting to get out, breathe and live life on her terms, she appears as a self-centered individual who selfishly broke the rigid norms pre-ordained by a patriarchal setup thereby affecting those around her adversely. Her mother-in-law did not like Nayan scaling the heights of her career as a successful writer while neglecting her ‘homely’ duties. Her caustic comments compelled Nayantara to leave her husband for good and raise her two children as a single mother in the late 1980s. She even successfully fought a court case where she wanted her children to have her surname, Apte, and not Joshi the surname that belonged to her husband. In the process, her two children had to face much bullying and harassment from their school teachers and friends alike. Nayantara then married a diligent photographer, who sexually abused her daughter, a heinous act, of which she was not at all aware of until Anuradha discloses these dark events in an interview later in her adulthood. These unfortunate decisions made a big dent in her relationship with her children. Her success is paved through her lonely journey as a misunderstood wife and a mother. The repercussion of her ‘ultra-modern’ attitudes shapes the persona of her daughter, Anuradha, who became a successful actress, married to a Russian man she met at a film festival became the mother of a daughter, Masha (Mithila Palkar). Like her mother, Anuradha too could not sustain her marriage or have any concrete and long-lasting relationships with the men in her life.
The narrative arcs of the film are mostly woven around the not-so-sweet memories of Anuradha and depict how she and her brother, Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi), succeeded in rising above their materially and emotionally impoverished origins by virtue of consolidating an array of middle-class virtues. Enclosed in a dysfunctional family setup, both the children negotiate their way through a domestic economy as they metamorphose into adulthood. They are ruled not by regulation but by the habits and misconduct of the parents, which then becomes the model against which they judge themselves and their families. Most of the key events in Tribhanga take place within the interior of the houses and the private ward of the hospital. These defined spaces represent the inner turmoil and grievance that has shrouded the relationship of Nayantara with her children. The rift between the mother-daughter also carries an objective distancing as Anuradha is not able to have a one-to-one conversation with her ailing mother. The video recordings by Milind serve as an important motif in not only layering the character of Nayantara but also ultimately in bringing Anuradha closer to her mother.
Performance-wise, it is Kajol in the diva-like role of Anuradha, who initially spews venom at the very mention of her mother and whose gradual change of heart is the biggest asset of the film. She plays her character with all its shades with aplomb and is the life and soul of the film. The talented Mithila Palkar, playing Anuradha’s daughter, suffers from her role having limited screen time and development. After all, she is an essential component of the narrative. In the expository scene where she makes her mother realize that the latter’s flamboyant lifestyle has in a way made an indelible impact on her life since her childhood. Masha’s revelation makes the viewers realize that her mother is a mirror image of her grandmother. It dawns upon us that the agony of Nayantara is much similar to Anuradha and reflects the bitter fact that the identity of a woman continues to revolve around the conflict between stereotypes and individual needs. In a film focussing on the 3 women, the viewers do not really get to fully relate with any of the male characters. Nayantara’s son, Robindro, in particular, is not properly chiseled out and his presence in the film as a key character should have been more stratified. The only male character to register is perhaps Milind, who is helping Nayantara writing her autobiography and who finally bridges the gap between Nayantara and Anuradha. Tanvi Azmi plays the older version of Nayantara and spends most of her screen time as a patient in a state of coma. The few scenes where she is in a healthy condition makes one wish an actress of her capability had more such sequences and was utilised better in the film. Shweta Mehendale, who portrays the younger Nayantara, tries earnestly to bring out the psychological traumas of the character but is unable at times to avoid appearing little more than a character straight out of a daily soap.
Technicality, the editing of the film by Jabeen Merchant is quite seamless, keeping the narrative moving smoothly along while the background score does actually work in creating a solid impact to two in places. But there are times the cinematography and the framings are a let down. Much too simplistic and often television like, one cannot help but feel that a lot more could have been done by effectively using the camera to bring out the inter-character dynamics and complexities inherent in the story, thereby elevating the aesthetic and cinematic elements of the scenes.
Overall though, for all its moments, the film is a disappointment. Despite having much potential in the conflicts and plot points of its screenplay, it fails to probe the intricacies of human relationships and their psychological realms in a thoroughly satisfying manner. In spite of some perceptive moments and fine performances, the film finally fails to linger on in our memory once it’s running time is over. And that is a pity.
Hindi, Drama, Color
Excellent reading – and writing – of and on the film. I agree with your interpretations but at the same time, also feel a bit sorry to discover that a woman director points out in several different ways – the fact that till today, a woman living life on her own terms – has to pay a very heavy price which a man easily glides away from, by running away from his responsibilities and making it seem that it is the other party that is in the wrong. Lovely writing Dipankar. Keep it up.
Thank you, Shoma Madam, for your kind words. It means a lot to me because you had taught me once at the Film Appreciation course conducted at Nandan in 2007. Even though the class was few hours but it had made a lasting impression on my ripe mind where the seed of observing cinema with a renewed perception was sown. Over the period of time, it got nurtured involuntarily and the result is visible, at present, in all the articles that I write about cinema. I still have a long way to go and hone my skills further. So, such appreciation from one of my teachers is really encouraging.