“Tribhanga - Tedhi Medhi Crazy” is a ripple of memories from the get-go as if its characters have been waiting all this while just to exhale, getting to this precise moment to share them. This moment comes after the sudden lapse of noted litterateur Nayantara Apte into a coma. A reunion at the hospital for her family and acquaintances brings her past into questioning and goes to unravel how much power it holds in the present. More than anything, “Tribhanga” is about children who believe that they are different from their parents when they are actually so deeply affected by those collateral experiences, it is often difficult to not make similar mistakes all over again.
What is the story about?
“Tribhanga” is based on a screenplay written by director Renuka Shahane, and tells the story of three women. There is a very specific cultural milieu to Nayantara Apte (Tanvi Azmi). Her story is born in a time and culture where she dares to forego her duties in the kitchen and follow her passion for writing. It’s a conservative Maharashtrian household, and constant nagging from her mother-in-law forces her to forge her own path forward, as a single mother. Nayantara dares to live a maverick lifestyle on her own terms. But somewhere she falters in protecting her children, which culminates in a complete breakdown of her relationship with daughter Anuradha (Kajol) and son Rabindra (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi). The film flashbacks through Anu’s lens, and it is at the hospital that she has to come to terms with her mother’s mistakes, some of which may have translated into her relationship with daughter Masha (Mithila Palkar).
As many intergenerational dramas go, the movie opens today and then tells the secrets that have severed Anu and Nayan’s relationships through a series of flashbacks. To move effortlessly between past and present, and make a suitable link between the two requires a bit of complexity in the screenplay, which “Tribhanga” seems to lack. Two different actresses play both Nayan and Anu at different ages, and this is done with a lot of clarity. But the character to whom the flashbacks disservice is Masha. The entire point of “Tribhanga” is using the delicate movement of Anu’s Odissi dance as a metaphor for their individual inner-psyche. Nayan is the slightly off-centered ‘abhang,’ while Masha is the in-balance ‘sama-bhang,’ and Anu herself is the curved ‘Tribhanga.’ We get to see, in detail, how Nayan and Anu own their idiosyncrasies as women and as people. But Masha’s life also warrants the same courtesy, considering how she has had to balance herself in spite of an equally difficult childhood. This is not adequately explored. Other stories seem to falter too. A father figure for Anu and Rabindra re-appears for a fleeting flashback, perhaps to legitimize Anu’s love for Odissi, with little to no effect. Rabindra becomes a silent spectator, a sidekick for Anu, later choosing the path of God and spouting philosophy rather than exploring his own agency.
The point which “Tribhanga” gets right is the value of its women within a patriarchal society. Shahane borrows from her own experiences, coming from a broken family and learning from an overachieving mother. We see a family in the 1980s which is not unimaginable for its progressive protagonist. Two decades later, Anu experiences the same disdain when she chooses single motherhood. “Tribhanga” is proud of its independent women with their own minds and spirits. It is equally proud of those who are docile and obedient, if it is their choice to be so. What comes across is that in spite of their obvious dysfunction, mothers do tend to relate to their daughters a lot more than they get credit for. Nayan understands Anu’s anger, as Anu understands Masha’s helplessness. In the very first scene, Nayan scolds Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur), her writing assistant. Almost throughout the film, Anu scolds Milan in similar ways. Milan gets used to chatting with Anu as much as he is fond of Nayan. With or without these individual experiences, these women and their stories are the same.
Shahane’s screenplay celebrates the rich talent of its competent performers, mainly a deeply insightful and restrained performance from Azmi, who plays mom to Kajol a second time after Dushman (1998). Palkar has a small role as Masha and is fine for her limited screentime. The gold, however, is taken by Kajol. Her sass and spunk is something that we love watching translate onscreen. “Tribhanga” is equal parts melodrama and equal parts muted, and her natural energy is much needed to ironically enough, balance out the film’s sad tone. Perhaps she identifies with Anu, who bears many similarities to her life of coming from a broken home with many female role models, but it is easy to see why she has detached from her idea of ‘aai,’ and remains so even at the end. Kunaal Roy Kapur is used to propel the relationship narrative, and smartly, he is used for as much play-banter as he is as the outsider’s viewpoint.
Music & Other Departments
“Tribhanga” doesn’t have any songs but has a rather overbearing score that harangues the problematic relationship between its characters, adding to the melodrama. Its cinematography and production design are especially competent.
Unapologetically independent women are often seen as the ‘other,’ even in Hindi cinema, and “Tribhanga” places them into a rather mainstream plot. Thankfully, their fight isn’t against the men in their lives, who honestly, just come and go as side characters. Their fight is against the conviction of their own choices, if any. The film carves its characters truthfully and lets them play off each other’s differing personalities. The performances really enhance the story.
Still, “Tribhanga” is patchy and scattered in the way the story flows, with the flashbacks coming across more like a series of vignettes as opposed to small parts to a large issue. Adequate context isn’t provided for the ladies’ motivations to make sense of why they do what they do and how they react. There are traumatic events that take place in their lives and they require a more in-depth look to get a better picture of the present. Otherwise, it is the universality of the story and the nuanced female gaze that lend some gravitas to the film.
Did I enjoy it?
I see many merits in the existence of “Tribhanga” in the ‘women in film’ canon but there are some downsides to the writing. So, kinda.
Do I recommend it?
There are small moments of genius in the film’s characterization and central performances. Deserves a watch for those reasons, sure.