How often do we get to see stories of women on-screen, especially told by a woman? It is rare – And what makes it even rarer is when the story is told right. In ‘Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy’, actor-turned-filmmaker Renuka Shahane has worked around three headstrong women of one dysfunctional family who are dealing with the immediate and long-term repercussions of their choices. They do so without resorting to shrill showboating.
What is most refreshing about Tribhanga is that it speaks up for women who refuse to fall in line but does not cry itself hoarse. The film is clear-throated but not declamatory.
Renuka spent almost six years with these characters. She tells Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, that one has to be committed to whatever they take up and not give up. “The core of the script, the way it is written and during the process of writing it… I felt it was an important topic and I should share it with the audience. I also realised that unless I finish this script, I won’t be able to write anything else,” she says while emphasising that there was something about ‘Tribhanga’ that was not done before and she wanted to make it happen for the audiences.
The movie pries open the complex relationship between three generations of mothers and daughters with generous helpings of humour, grace, and chutzpah. Anu, played by Kajol is a tempestuous movie star and a famous Odissi dancer whose bitterness towards her writer mother Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) is unshaken 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). Masha (Mithila Palkar) adds the much-needed calm in the story.
Calling the movie Renuka’s longest gestation ever, Kajol considers herself to be lucky to have said yes to ‘Tribhanga’. She says, “I loved the script the first time Renuka narrated it to me.” “I just loved the characters and how their stories were interwoven together, there were parts in the movie where I felt – all women in their life have come to a point where they wanted to say so much – some have said it out loud, maybe too harshly, some didn’t.” Kajol heard the script five times and every time Renuka narrated it to her she fell in love with the characters.
You’ll hear some unusual and colourful cuss words in the movie, commenting on that, Kajol burst out laughing, “Honestly, it was harsh to the ears, but it is a huge form of expression – and we all use such words to express ourselves. The character of Anu is so OTT that it required that extra punch and Renuka very cleverly incorporated it – so this was a scientific explanation.” Kajol adds with a chuckle, “We had a blast and everybody on the sets started laughing every time I said dialogue with a cuss word in it. So there’s an intellectual and non-intellectual explanation for it.”
Not many people would know but the credit for these unusually written cuss words also goes to Renuka’s husband and famous actor Ashutosh Rana. “Oh God, it’s a story. One fine day when I was writing the script in Hindi, I woke up my husband and said, “Hindi ki kuch gaalian bataeye na.” He was so shocked, But all the Hindi ‘gaalis’ were provided by my husband.
Kajol who was not able to stop laughing, “We should give him credits, Renuka – Abuses provided by Ashutosh Rana.”
Renuka has time and again mentioned that feminism was one thing that she wanted to talk about. “These days one has a narrow view of feminism and my take about it is that there are all kinds of feminism and it also includes equality for men. It also means ‘freedom of choice’ and that is what I kept in mind while writing my characters – Anu, Nayan and Masha in terms of their choices and how they react to those choices. Feminism is about the inclusiveness of choices and that has been reflected in the film.”
‘Tribhanga’ also deals with various other aspects – child sexual abuse, sex determination in a subtle way. Renuka tells us, “You know these things happen around us – kids are sexually abused by people they’ve been close, people who they trusted and that leaves a scar. Where Anu is concerned, the angst she feels is not just because her mother left her father, or she was bullied in school, but something horrendous happened to her at the hands of someone from whom she should have been saved. She carries that grudge, though, she is not a fool, and she has seen life very closely.”
Kajol adds, “When you think about a mother-child relationship – it is always that your mother is your ideal – she is your first friend, first love and also the first enemy. That relationship can never be cut regardless of whatever happens in life. To lead a regular life one has to resolve all the differences, you can leave it unattended.”
It wasn’t difficult for Kajol to play Anu cause of the beautiful relationship she shares with her mother Tanuja. She says, “It was not a struggle to understand Anu – Renuka had written the script so well, by the fifth narration, before we started shooting, I had already inhaled Anu quite well and understood exactly where she is coming from. Secondly, both the character of Anu and Nayan are very individualistic, very opinionated about things – they are very much like me and my Mom (Tanuja) in real life. There’s a lot of similarity between my mom and Nayan. My mother also had a very strong opinion and did things according to her without worrying about society. Similarly, I am very opinionated in real life, so it was very easy for me to understand Anu’s character and her struggles.”
Renuka feels Kajol is a livewire, she kept the atmosphere on the set alive. “Things Kajol has brought to Anu’s character are not even there in the script… this I must give her full credits for.
The vulnerability that she brings to the character makes it even stronger. Anu can be very rude and people might get alienated from her, but somehow Kajol brings that vulnerability even when Anu is being brisk and this has allowed people to relate to her and love her for what she is. People can feel what Anu is going through and unless you are drawn in by the character, in the beginning, you might feel completely put off with a character like that of Anu. Kajol balanced out everything in a way where the audiences are finding it attractive. It is her extra magic.”
Both Kajol and Renuka feel that OTT platforms are a game-changer. “It is a game-changer,” Renuka says. “Firstly because for the mainstream we have to think of the economic viability of things, we water down certain experiments because we need to get our money back, and with the OTT coming in, they support a wider variety of subjects – we still have to keep the budget in mind, but these platforms have encouraged a lot of women stories, women behind the camera.”
Kajol adds, “OTT platforms have allowed our audience to change. Everybody has a mobile phone and the internet these days. Suddenly in the last 10 years, audiences have started accepting changes. It solves the economic debate if we should make a movie on such diverse topics or not. At the end of the day, it is a business, so if one is putting in that much amount of money, you expect a return. Films, as you know, are a ‘tukka’ – you really don’t know where it would land. Audiences are now open to watching new kind of films and not just a love story or action drama.”