Anuradha Apte is cussing in the green room. Wearing in a beautiful blue saree and intricate silver jewellery, she is about to step onto the stage to dance. At the same time, her mother Nayantara drops a glass of whiskey on the floor while giving an interview for a biography (translated from Bollywood to English: She is about to go into a coma). When Anu reaches the hospital in the same attire, the reporters stationed there call it a fancy dress, and she reacts strongly to their folly. But 'fancy dress' might just be a perfect description for Kajol's caricaturish performance as Anu. She is trying hard to act 'flawed' (read: an antithesis of the graceful, poised Odissi dancer), and the effort shows. 'Tribhanga' is a metaphor for Anu's character, in her own words. It is a pretty comparison to make, but her relationship with Odissi doesn't evolve beyond this token comparison. Her acting career is also plugged in deliberately – a poster on Milan the biographer's computer screen, or kids taking selfies with her at the hospital canteen. This, perhaps, is the overarching problem with the movie. While the script is packed with what could make this an engaging tale of inheritance, broken-ness, and multiple feminisms, there are too many stories to digest in succession – and none of them is layered.
Tanvi Azmi is natural as Nayantara, but she is only seen in retrospect. Her feminism is interesting, complex, and evolving. She makes many mistakes while raising her children – the gravest of which is her choice in men, according to Anu. But she does not give up writing, despite the consistent (and sometimes misplaced) hatred of her own daughter. As written in her last letter to Anu, she wants to live life again only to make better choices. Just before she passes away, she dreams of both her children and writing. Her new choices, then, are these. No man has any place in this paradise. Masha, Anu's daughter, instead of running away from the myth of a 'broken family', is running away from her own 'broken family'. A predicament with great potential, wasted by a bad exposition, just like Mithila's acting prowess. The plot becomes fairly convoluted with sexual assault and domestic violence jammed in. It is like a checklist is being ticked.
For a beautiful exploration of mother-daughter relationships, one can turn to Lady Bird, where their affection is delicate and fights are fierce. 'I am growing into my mother' is a phrase we've heard (and felt) a lot of times. Tribhanga, unlike Lady Bird, focusses so much on the events that set up the conflict that it forgets the tenderness and even the catharsis. Shuggie Bain, the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, also portrays selfish motherhood. Shuggie keeps loving and taking care of his troubled alcoholic mother, while his siblings leave to never return. In Tribhanga, we see Nayan separated from her husband out of choice, unlike the novel. Anu's rejection of Nayan (whom she does not call aai) is understandable behaviour for a troubled child, but her character doesn't evolve – she stays frozen in an angst-ridden teen age. Filial love is so absent since the beginning that when Anu suddenly wells up in the end it doesn't feel real. Her forgiveness looks like a forcefully reached conclusion.
There is some redemption in the circle that the film draws – a realisation of how difficult it is to be a woman when you live in a society so steeped in patriarchy. Nayan and Anu are carved as strong women, revolutionary in their own ways. Masha, who has seen the lives her grandma and mother have led, has chosen to conform because she is scared of the price she will have to pay otherwise. Even though the looping animation at the end becomes nauseating, the last scene is a well-made ode. Three generations sit together in the same frame – an old Nayan reading, a young Anu tying her ghungroos and baby Masha playing. What unites them all, if they have refused to inherit anything from their mothers? The answer is simple: womanhood.