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Tribhanga: Bringing Out The Humanness Inherent In Feminism

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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.

Through the eyes of Nayan, we are taken to the times when she was a struggling young writer.

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.

What may seem normal and beautiful to the world can be twisted and ugly.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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