“I hate my mother.” When Renuka Shahane heard this declaration by an acquaintance, she was inspired to write a screenplay about the bittersweet, sometimes fraught bonds between women across generations. That exploration resulted in Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy, starring Tanvi Azmi as the eminent writer Nayan, Kajol as her daughter Anu, and Mithila Palkar as her granddaughter Masha.

Anu is a tempestuous movie star and Odissi dancer whose bitterness towards Nayan is unshaken even when Nayan is hospitalised after a stroke. Anu also has a tense encounter with Nayan’s biographer (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and calms down only in the presence of her brother Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi).

Tribhanga will be out on Netflix on January 15. Shahane’s previous film Rita, based on her mother Shanta Gokhale’s novel Rita Welinkar, was released in 2009. The wait between the films has been worth it, Shahane told Scroll.in. “I guess I am happy that is coming on Netflix – had it come earlier, I would have had to make certain changes in the script for the mainstream audiences, which I wasn’t willing to do.” Excerpts from an interview.

Films made by women about mother-daughter relationships are often assumed to be autobiographical. Is that the case with ‘Tribhanga’?
My relationship is so good with my mother. Whatever I am, I would say, is because of my mother. We are still the best of friends. Sometimes I mother her and sometimes she mothers me now. Women have been extremely important to my growth and my being.

An acquaintance recently got married. I happened to say, you must be missing home. She said, not really, I am glad to escape my mother, I hate her. This was the first time that I had met a person who said that she hated her mother. It was very strange for me to experience that. I have seen people not being able to communicate, that’s okay, but nobody had said that they hate their moms. I am sure she had her reasons.

This whole thing – if the core of my being is unsettled in some way, what would I have been – was something I wanted to delve into. The concept of the three generations came about because there are certain things that you decide to do as a parent, certain decisions that you make, and you don’t really think it through on behalf of the children. Society doesn’t ever let you forget anything.

That was something I have definitely dealt with in personal life. My attitude of looking at society is in a very tongue-in-cheek way – hey, you are there, but not the be all and end all of my life. You can rebel in quaint ways or be completely conforming of society. All of these things excited me and I tried to put that together.

Mithila Palkar and Kunaal Roy Kapur in Tribhanga. Courtesy Banijay Asia/Alchemy Films/Ajay Devgn Ffilms/Parag Desai/Netflix.

What does ‘Tribhanga’ say about motherhood?
The mother is a human being who has every right to not be the mother that you put on a pedestal. You are doing so because you want them to do everything for you. You are giving them a certificate to be there 24 hours. I want us to see our mothers as human beings.

My relationship with my mother has been extremely close because I have always seen her as a human being, though she is quite sarva gun sampanna, I must say [perfect in every way]. Me as a mother is another story altogether. I would like people to see me more empathetically and sympathetically. Also, get guilt free, I would say – it’s okay to be human.

Apart from being set in a world of writers, dancers and performers, the film also questions our notions about feminism.
That cultural milieu is very close to me, so I can be honest about it. I have met so many [such] people throughout my life. I have seen all shades of culturally intellectually superior people to the most banal, mundane, beautiful and lovely people. It’s a whole mix of things that isn’t often reflected in women’s stories. Empowerment is often shown as only sexual empowerment, or wearing whatever. I wanted to go beyond the clothes and beyond the romance.

All three of my characters are feminist. Their type of feminism differs. Sometimes, feminists can make the strangest of choices that go completely against their thoughts or their values. For a very long time, they will stick with them and one fine day, get up and realise that maybe they were wrong. Or sometimes they just drag on [simply] because they have taken that decision.

The main thing is the independence of choice, and the fact that as children, do we really have this choice? The mother’s choice affects the daughter, but when she becomes a mother, she decides to do something that might affect the daughter in some way. It’s like concentric circles, where some parts are rebelling or reacting to what your childhood was.

Tribhanga (2021).

The title refers to a pose in classical dance in which the upper, middle and lower parts of the body are held in different positions. How does this stance reflect your film?
Nayan is a very intellectual and cerebral writer. Anu is a very spontaneous person who loves celebrating all the Id things in life, who is uncensored and unfettered. Dance is a reflection of that type – somebody who enjoys her body much more than her soul and brain. Masha wants everybody to be in harmony, who is all heart, in a way.

I just love Odissi. Unfortunately, I can’t dance. I tried learning Odissi from Jhelum [Paranjpe] a long time ago. It was such an enriching experience. That dance just blows me away. Somehow, I wanted to represent that. I was thinking of tribhanga, and that pose stuck with me – how it is so different and asymmetrical and skewed and kind of very real. When it is performed and when you look at a person in that pose, you are mesmerised.

How did you go about picking your actors?
I first had to find my Anu. The crux was Anu. All the others, except maybe Nayan, are responding to her. She has the most complete arc, apart from Milan [X], who plays her brother. It was crucial to cast someone who is very aware of what it means to be a star, who can be blase about it. Kajol just loved the script. When she said yes, everything else was put together.

I was very happy to get the three women. They look like they are from the same family, and yet they are so different from each other.

I had worked with Tanvi as an assistant and a co-actor in Lifeline in 1988. [Lifeline was a television serial on Doordarshan set in a hospital and directed by Vijaya Mehta.] I was assisting Vijaya bai, and now I am directing Tanvi.

Renuka Shahane and Kajol on the sets of Tribhanaga. Courtesy Banijay Asia/Alchemy Films/Ajay Devgn Ffilms/Parag Desai/Netflix.

Also read:

Renuka Shahane on ‘Surabhi’: ‘The osmosis that defines India can never be stopped’

From ‘Sorry yaar, really sorry’ to ‘Why don’t we get married?’: Shanta Gokhale’s memoir of her body