Why do Indian filmmakers confuse feminism with swearing, or drinking, or even shouting? Why do they think every student of Hindi literature talks like he is in a 60s film in his real life? And why would they insert typical Bollywood stereotypes into an otherwise nuanced and cathartic story that deserves a better cast? These are just some of the questions I would like to ask the makers of Tribhanga.
The story of three generations of women who form a family is the core of the film. Nayantara Apte (Tanvi Azmi) is a writer trapped in a typical conservative Marathi family. Her divorce and estrangement from her husband leads to neglect towards the kids (Kajol and Vaibhav Tatwawaadi), where the former goes through sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s second husband. Growing up resentful, Kajol’s character becomes brash and unyielding, with hatred for her mother leading to a closed-off relationship between the duo. Her daughter, in turn, chooses a conservative (normal, in her words) family to not be anything like her mother and grandmother. Three women, three wonderful arcs. As a Marathi writer, I was personally invested in the story, but at no point did I see any need for Kajol or her theatrics or even the presence of Bollywood clichés. Tribhanga would have worked as a brilliant Marathi film in itself.
While watching Renuka Shahane’s directorial debut, I was often in awe in the way Shweta Mehendale portrayed a young Nayantara Apte’s frustrations, which at times were even better than Tanvi Azmi. The story shows how women in India are trapped in an endless cycle we just cannot seem to break, where to get away from our mother’s shadows, we somehow inadvertently end up becoming her. Sexual abuse, lack of freedom, the taunts of society, and the pressure to get married are nothing new, but the film dwells more on how women treat women, which was refreshing to see.
It’s also refreshing to see men in nominal roles instead of dominating the screens, which showcased how the trio thought about men and their importance in their lives. But like every other film, it also has its shortcomings. Mithila Palkar ends up being more of a token character who just has one heart-to-heart conversation. An unbearably bad scene shows a teacher taunting her student about her parents being divorced, Kunaal Roy Kapoor was so one dimensional that it hurt to watch him, and any Marathi actress worth her salt (Amruta Subhash comes to mind) would have portrayed the role better than Kajol did.