Most mainstream Indian movies lead viewers to believe that mothers are symbols strength, solicitude and sacrifice – ready to give up everything, if it means keeping the family together. But the moms in the 2021 film ‘Tribhanga’ don’t exactly fit in the ‘Mother India’ mold. The film starts off with a writer (who has a married grand-daughter) day-drinking whiskey and recalling her life, which includes abandoning her husband to pursue her passion. Her kids hate her and prefer to call her by her first name.

A few seconds later, we see a resplendent Anu (Kajol), the writer’s daughter, draped in a beautiful blue saree, all ready to perform the classical Odishi dance, but not before grabbing a cigarette pack to calm her nerves. It’s a clever juxtaposition of traditional mores and modern mannerisms. Kajol’s Anu is a famous actor and dancer, with an even more accomplished writer mom Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) and a rather docile daughter Masha (Mithila Palkar).

Anu leaves her dance midway to rush to the hospital, where her mother has been hospitalized. Nayan suffers a stroke while interacting with Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur), a writer who is helping pen her biography. The story then flits between the present and past to explain the strained/stormy relationship between Nayan and Anu and how it unwittingly affects her daughter Masha too.

Director Renuka Shahane, who has also written the story, tells a gripping, emotional tale of three women, two of whom are fiercely independent and how their life choices haunt them to the end. ‘Tribhanga’ is a dance pose and literally means ‘three parts break’ (Wikipedia says so) and refers to three bends in the body – so as a viewer we are led to believe that the three protagonists will perhaps have equal share in the story. However, Kajol gets the most screen-time.

The much-loved actor turns out to be the only weak link in the film as far as the acting is concerned. While all the other actors slip pretty effortlessly into their roles, Kajol’s delivery is too exaggerated in some scenes. Her performance swings between over-dramatic to just right. It’s probably because the character seems a lot like the actor herself – bubbly, loud, spunky & outspoken. A lot of actors have often mused about how it’s much easier to play someone completely different than roles that are closer to their own traits. Kajol’s emotional scenes are poignant & spot on, but she overdoes the lighter fun scenes. Tanvi Azmi on the other hand looked every bit the troubled old writer she plays. Kunaal Roy Kapur’s role as the ‘shuddhh Hindi speaking’ biographer was a little caricature-like, yet fun to watch.

The cinematography captures all the changing moods of the film vividly, be it the somber hospital scenes or soirees from the past. There are a lot of fleeting little family scenes, both silly and serious, that would be relatable to a lot of people. And it was absolutely refreshing to see the spotlight on the internal struggles of women who choose a different life for themselves. The theme of sexual abuse is handled sensitively, yet done in a way to convey the heinous nature of the crime and the devastating impact it can have on the victim’s life. Not sure about other viewers, but I was delighted to see the protagonist Anu cuss away to glory, like a regular woman; she doesn’t hold back the ‘f’ bombs, or the even more explosive expletives that are available to us in the Hindi language.

Since the story is set in Mumbai, some dialogues are in Marathi and it adds to the authenticity of the tale. The only problem I had with the script was the unfair villainization of school teachers. It might seem like a trivial complaint, and despite a very brief scene, odious bullying by teachers actually plays a big part in pushing the plot forward. Which brings us to the pace of the film – with a 95 minute runtime, Tribhanga is cut well and flows smoothly. The climax ends in a bitter-sweet closure. It could’ve done with more story and screen-space for other actors. Also, the ending shot was very funny/silly/unnecessary. If you watch the film you’ll know what I mean.

It’s a 7/10 for me.