When the movie star Anu sees her novelist mother Nayan comatose in hospital, she has a decidedly unsympathetic reaction. Perfect, snarls Anu, she’s in a silent zone.

At least it’s better than the time Anu shoves Nayan and tells her, I hate you, you are a sick woman.

Behind this seemingly irreconcilable estrangement is a complicated family history, forged by hard choices and unintended consequences. Renuka Shahane’s Tribhanga is at its most affecting when it examines the spontaneous reactions of its characters to their circumstances. Constantly taunted by her oppressive mother-in-law and let down by her effete husband, Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) walks out of her marital home with her children Anu and Robindro.

Later in life, Anu (Kajol) has her own moment of truth through a blistering exchange with her daughter Masha (Mithila Palkar).

These flashpoints of rage and recrimination supply black humour and sage insights into the fraught ties between mothers and daughters. What they do not provide is a larger framework within which to better understand Nayan, Anu and Masha. Their immediate responses to provocations are utterly relatable. Anu’s unfiltered statements about life in general and Nayan in particular are especially memorable, all the more so for being gleefully unorthodox and honest.

Less convincing is the larger insistence that long-festering and gaping wounds can be healed by Band-aids. Shahane’s chronicle of imperfect mothers and difficult daughters says far more on the subject than is usually seen, but is crimped by its desire to extract sweetness from bitterness.

Tanvi Azmi in Tribhanga (2021). Courtesy Netflix.

The trio of women constitutes the three parts of the Odissi dance pose that has inspired the title – each of them is leaning in a different direction. Anu’s hatred for Nayan has valid reasons, but she isn’t around to see that Nayan has come to regret her actions. Although the 95-minute movie is too rushed to give a proper measure of Nayan’s world, flashbacks reveal glimpse of her struggle to forge an identity beyond motherhood.

Anu and her brother Robindra (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi) have dealt with the situation in different ways. Anu has become a queen of the marquee as well as an Odissi dancer (although we never see her perform). Robindro is a Krishna devotee, and has learnt to let go while holding on what matters the most.

Anu’s own choices are, in turn, challenged by her daughter. Masha’s submissiveness troubles her firebrand mother, who has spent her adult life challenging conformity.

A renewed link between Anu and Nayan is provided by Nayan’s biographer and amanuensis. The earnest and pure Hindi-spouting fanboy Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur) has been privy to Nayan’s autumnal discontent, which gives Anu yet another reason to explode.

Individual scenes stand out in the episodic narrative. All of them belong to Kajol, who is a hoot as a devil-may-care diva. Anu’s cutting tongue proves to be worse than her bite, and she calms down just as quickly as she flares up. While Anu’s tangled feelings towards her mother unravel far too easily, Kajol is always enjoyable whether cussing or tearing up.

Tanvi Azmi, Mithila Palkar, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi and Manav Gohil (as Anu’s partner) ably complement Kajol. The larger community of artists and creators includes a neat cameo by the acting veteran Kanwaljeet Singh.

Like Milan, Shahane too plays the role of peacemaker and bridge-builder, forcing three divergent positions to point in the same direction. There is much in Tribhanga that lingers, but also a great deal that doesn’t quite come together.

Tribhanga (2021).

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‘Tribhanga’ director Renuka Shahane: ‘I want us to see our mothers as human beings’