The space from which the three leading ladies of Tribhanga – Tedhi Medhi Crazy come is unique but not wholly unfamiliar for the Maharashtrian audience who must have watched it on Netflix. Maharashtra has a history of feminist writers and artists — women who have written and performed on other women’s plight. So much has been presented on this topic that it is needless to say that Maharashtra also has a history of suppression of women.
The slight unevenness in the behaviour of Nayan, Anu and Masha is a testimony to that. They are all a product of systematic patriarchy, intertwined with the personal choices to navigate and break this patriarchy.
Nayan and Anu share a visibly estranged relationship and even as Anu and Masha are close — there are cracks beneath the surface. There is pain, loss, distress and discomfort all rolled up over the years, which threatened to burst open when they were forced to relive the memories in the hospital room where the comatose Nayan lies now.
Let us take the story back to understand how they reached this pressure point. The movie opens with an ageing Nayantara Apte, famous writer, narrating her life to another young writer (Milan), who is very much in her awe. Nayan is very stubborn, odiously frank — quite bebaak – and yet there is an endearing vulnerability that draws us to her.
Reminiscing about her eventful life is painful, as painful as writing has become for her arthritis ridden hands. There are regrets, yet there is also a quiet, almost graceful acceptance of her choices in her life.
Nayan is quite insistent that her autobiography should also carry her children’s voices as atonement for the decisions she had imposed on them. However, her children, Anu and Rabindro are far from accommodating to her wish — for them, their childhood memories are best buried somewhere far away.
Somewhere in the middle of her story, Nayan suffers a heatstroke and has to be admitted in the hospital. The curtain falls, yet the actor does not leave the stage, tied down to her mortal spectators by a thread that her children must gently let go.
Through the eyes of Nayan, we are taken to the times when she was a struggling young writer, trying to juggle domestic responsibilities with her compulsive need to fill pages after pages with her writing. Unlike the aspiring days for a young male writer (take Manto, for example), Nayan does not get to loiter in parks and lanes to search for stories or smoke and drink while processing a thought. She has to shut herself in her room, to shut down her mother-in-law’s taunts and duties towards children and husband.
As a woman, you want to understand her, even sympathise with her and still, you cannot. Nayan is no ideal — the erratic decisions she took for herself and her children literally bore consequences for the next two generations.
Her daughter Anu is not great at parenting either. As much as she wished to keep her daughter away from the unhealthy relationships she had borne with her mother and with Masha’s biological father, her volatile personality was enough to cast a shadow on her growing years.
Nayan and Anu both end up becoming single mothers. Nayan’s husband (Anu’s father) cannot stop his wife from leaving the house; he cannot take back his daughter even after she expressly wishes to return. Robindro quietly turns to spirituality even before attempting to shoulder grihasti.
In a way, all of them move away from conforming to the societal norms of a good husband, wife, son and mother. Their obvious family dysfunctionalities seem to envelop their personalities and impact those around them.
Everything about Anu’s behaviour would seem to us as an outcome of her disturbing childhood experiences. She is cold towards her mother and warm towards her daughter and brother; she is openly hostile towards Milan and unapologetic in her relationships with men in her life. She is loud, unpretentious and charming, as much as she is also (for the lack of a better word) uncouth and unstable.
On the other hand, Masha may also seem an outcome of growing up with an unpredictable, flamboyant mother and her personality is demure, soft and apologetic, a complete contrast to her Anu. And yet, as much as the three women would seem like victims of circumstances on the outside, on the inside, they are quite free. They stood for what they believed in, they were intolerant towards injustice, and by choice, they decided to live a life free from force.
Nayan decides to break her marriage. Anu decides to never get into one. Masha decides to enter into a “normal” traditional family to give her children a stable life she thinks they deserve.
They made their own decisions and took responsibility for it even if it went wrong; they were stubborn, fierce and gentle too. Despite being wronged by some men in their life, they were not men haters, there was ownership and above all a strong belief in sisterhood.
Also, who in the real world gets a chance to live a life with perfect functionalities? What indeed is a perfect family? The family that looks picture-perfect still goes through a rough patch. What may seem normal and beautiful to the world can be twisted and ugly, like Masha’s husband’s family who claimed to be bound together by love and who asked her to do a sex determination test. Tribhanga compellingly makes you think about all of this.
The story is dealt with from the angles of all the three women. Listening to Nayan and her decision to leave her husband, the fight to add her surname to her children, her desires to get into new relationships, all seem justified in the light of her genius and the individuality she deserves to have.
Anu’s narration of her childhood, which gushes out in the hospital after persistent pleas from Milan, is fraught with neglect (from her parents), ostracism (for her mother’s bold decisions) and even sexual abuse (from her mother’s boyfriend). All of this cloud Nayan’s towering success as a progressive, feminist writer and the justifications we had for her in our mind seem to slacken.
From Masha’s perspective, her grandmother deserves to be understood as much as her beloved mother is, and yet she would not want to repeat any of the mistakes (as she sees it) in her own life. Now, we want to be like Masha and move away from the unfairness that she had to deal with because of her family.
Three generations, three perspectives, each shaping and restraining the other. When feminism is seen as jargon or a theory to be read, these women live it, uniquely interpret it from their standpoints, experience it in its nuanced and imperfect forms and understand each other through its lens. They help us see myriad hues of womanhood in a deeply flawed and unequal society. Above all, they bring out the humanness that is so inherent in feminism.
In the closing credits of the movie, Renuka Shahane (the director on whose life this film is allegedly based on) makes sure that the three protagonists’ names are first to be rolled out — Tanvi Azmi, Kajol and Mithila Palkar. The male actors, however senior, come next. The women reclaim their narratives and dance their way to their conclusions, just as we, as the audience do.