By Sonali Kokra Jan. 17, 2021
Since watching Netflix’s Tribhanga, I’ve recommended it to several close women friends despite its agonising flaws, simply for its arresting central premise. So many of us have travelled the path the three women in the film are walking on. Confident in our abilities to make better, different, more authentic choices than the ones made by our own mothers and then realising we’re a lot more like our mothers than we ever intended to be.
There is this moment in the Netflix film Tribhanga, the delightfully caustic (you have to follow her on Twitter to know why) Renuka Shahane’s directorial and Kajol’s OTT debut, that made me want to hit pause, extricate myself from under my 36 blankets (Delhi winters, you cruel beast), rush to my room, and… Call. My. Mother. Just to hear her dependable, reassuring voice complaining about whatever it is that was perplexing her that day.
In case you’re wondering, and also because is it really even the internet without a spot of some entirely editable overshare?, the flavour of the month is my newly acquired red hair. Most of our conversations for the last three weeks have been peppered with loud sighs and pregnant pauses. My mother, I believe, is an artist. I don’t know too many other women who can elevate the mere act of expelling air from their mouths into a multi-layered art form. I mean, I can practically touch the sharp notes of disapproval generously laced with disappointment and accusation. It’s possible that I enjoy my mother’s distrust of my flaming mop almost (probably more) than the hair itself.
But back to the “OMG-I-need-to-call-mom” moment in Tribhanga. A shocked Anuradha (Kajol) has just learned that her estranged, award-winning writer mother, Nayantara (Tanvi Azmi) can no longer write, that she hasn’t been able to write for several years now. Her visceral reaction to that revelation contains more horror than when she finds the same mother lying comatose in a hospital room, with no indication when or if she will ever come out of her coma.
Anu knows, in the way only someone who truly knows another can know, that the inability to write has likely been a far worse prison for Nayan than the brain fog that currently envelops her. As tragic as that moment is — imagine not knowing something so monumental — it also betrays an unacknowledged closeness between the pair. You can choose not to be a part of their life, but can you really ever unknow the parent whose eccentricities and behavioural vagaries form the tapestry of your own social DNA?
Tribhanga and Shahane do a fine job of whetting your appetite for such moments of spectacular emotional depth and sincerity…
That moment reminded me of my mother’s many sighs and silences. The passive-aggressiveness and violence in her pauses and inflections, placed strategically and executed with flawless precision for maximum emotional devastation, without even one unpleasant word being exchanged. It’s a language that, I believe, women are particularly skilled at… In a world that often goes to extraordinary lengths to silence us, we have to be.
Tribhanga and Shahane do a fine job of whetting your appetite for such moments of spectacular emotional depth and sincerity… And then leave you frustratedly hanging. Sigh.
If I had to sum up the movie in one sentence, I’d call it an incomplete collection of quietly stirring scenes — the one where Anu realises that after a lifetime of trying not to, she’s gone and done exactly what she most blames her mother for — stitched together with far too many drenched-in-nostalgia ones that, though bittersweet, never quite reach their intended destination. Delightful as Kajol is as the mercurial Anu — angry, abusive, vulnerable, strong, stormy, and sensitive, all within seconds of each other — I wish Shahane hadn’t allowed Kajol’s stardom to dominate a story that had the potential to be India’s Lady Bird. The movie belongs too much to Anu, not enough to Nayan, and far, far too little to Masha, Anu’s traditional-as-they-come daughter played by Mithila Palkar. And minus the all-important context and POVs of the two generations that bracket her own, Anu’s character often looks like it’s simply floating around aimlessly — in turns growling at her mother’s biographer Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapoor), reminiscing with her Krishna-devotee younger brother Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi), and generally being a don’t-mess-with-me badass.
Filled with youthful arrogance that crumbles to horrified dust in middle age, when we realise we’re a lot more like our mothers than we ever intended to be.
In the 36 hours since watching Tribhanga, I’ve recommended it to several close women friends despite its agonising flaws, simply for its arresting central premise.
So many of us have travelled the path Nayan, Anu, and Masha are walking on. Confident in our abilities to make better, different, more authentic choices than the ones made by our own mothers. Filled with youthful arrogance that crumbles to horrified dust in middle age, when we realise we’re a lot more like our mothers than we ever intended to be. The tension between the self-loathing and relief that accompanies the realisation that our identities will always be tethered to our mothers in some unfathomable, invisible ways. Always needy for their approval. Aware of their mortality and the rapid march of time, while so much has been left unsaid, and terrified that the clock will run out before we work up the courage to form the words bristling in our breasts.
Many of our mothers received suspicious no-reason-I-just-wanted-to-hear-your-voice middle-of-the-day calls after watching the film. Just for that, Team Tribhanga, take a bow.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.