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Movie Review: ‘Tribhanga’ (Netflix)

Renuka Shahane poses an interesting question in her latest Netflix film ‘Tribhanga’: why are inherently imperfect human beings expected to be perfect mothers? We see three fascinating women with dysfunctional family ties, trying to fix the mistakes of the generations before them, while making new mistakes of their own. ‘Tribhanga’ is not a technically faultless film, but it tells a fresh, unique story that is worth hearing.

Renowned writer Nayantara Apte aka Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) falls into a coma before completing her autobiography. Hearing the news, her estranged daughter Anu (Kajol) comes running to the hospital. Anu, however, isn’t as distraught by the situation as she is annoyed. Her mother’s fearless life choices have been nothing but burdensome for her. And now she’s in a coma, without giving Anu the closure she needs from her. Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur) – Nayan’s biographer – is still focused on completing the book, so he pushes Anu to confront the bitterness she holds for her. Anu, in turn, is forced to see her own mistakes reflected in her daughter Masha’s (Mithila Palkar) choices.

‘Tribhanga’ is an interesting story about compelling women hindered by overdramatic filmmaking. Filled with a distracting background score, unnecessarily lengthy dialogue, it seems like the film doesn’t trust its own very capable actors to deliver the required emotion. This is especially redundant since the actors are all giving dramatic performances instead of modest, quiet ones that are currently in style. The men in the story are largely two-dimensional, so the brunt of the storytelling is on the women. The actresses pull through with some poignant scenes, particularly the confrontation between Anu and Masha, which Palkar is so honest in. Kajol plays the brash Anu unapologetically, although sometimes it feels too loud. Azmi is grounded, wise, yet still defiant. Their chemistry is pleasant and dynamic.

Shahane does full justice to the women she has written, depicting the wounds and regrets behind their fearless façades without turning them into weak heroines, selfish vamps or feminist icons. Has Bollywood ever shown mothers as complex people beyond their roles as caregivers? Both Nayan and Anu never conform to society’s rules for them. They resist and fight for their independence, often at the cost of their children’s stability. Masha chooses to return to the same family expectations Nayan once broke away from for the sake of her own child, willingly giving up her own freedom. No one in ‘Tribhanga’ is right or wrong, better or worse. They are all navigating their own lives, making their own choices based on their own experiences. That is what makes Shahane’s story so admirable.