All that swearing in Tribhanga was great fun: Kajol
Kajol and Renuka Shahane talk about Tribhanga, their film about a mother-daughter relationship out on Netflix
Different scenes can break us differently. Take, for example, the conflicting pleasures of Tribhanga, a film about a mother-daughter relationship out on Netflix. For many, the constant swearing and characteristic bluster of Kajol — playing an Odissi dancer named Anu — proved too much. Personally, though, I found it to be the best part, a typically impetuous actor letting it fly in her digital debut. Instead, what baffled me about the film was the portrayal of Anu’s husband, a Russian expat named — of all things — ‘Dmitri’.
Now, if the depiction of Russians in US cinema makes you queasy, Tribhanga does them one better. Not only is Dimitri shown to be a violent husband, but his entire arc is introduced and dispatched in a single flashback, one that ends with Kajol whacking him with an umbrella. Director Renuka Shahane laughs when I place my complaint before her. As it turns out, she had more than one reason to make him Russian.
“I wanted to explore the connection of the Russian doll — one character coming out of another,” Renuka explains. “There was a time in my life when I used to watch a lot of films at the House of Soviet Culture (in Mumbai). So I knew the kind of backstory that Anu and Dmitri could have. And I loved the name Masha for their daughter.”
A family saga, Tribhanga centres on Anu’s broken relationship with her mother. Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) is a successful writer whose individualism has pushed away her kids. Years later, she falls into a coma and is hospitalised, leaving Anu and her brother to reckon with their tormented past. By now Anu is a mother too — and thus better equipped to understand Nayan. The character cuts close to Kajol, who comes from a line of strong, successful, and famous women.
“Nayan has huge shades of my mom (veteran actor Tanuja),” Kajol agrees. “Being an opinionated person myself, I could understand where Anu was coming from. I completely got her. She’s also one of the coolest characters I’ve played.”
Hence the swearing? Kajol admits she doesn’t swear in real life, so everyone was a little taken aback on set. In a hospital scene, she explains her proclivity for the F-word, which further confounds Nayan’s biographer (Kunal Roy Kapur). “It was great fun,” Kajol shares. “The first day we started out, Renuka was in a bit of shock. She kept telling me, ‘It’s coming so easily to you. I wonder why that is’.” In response, Kajol hounded her director to say the word herself. “Because I had written these lines, she wanted to hear it from me,” Renuka recalls.
In the film, Anu discovers her love for Odissi after watching a Kelucharan Mohapatra performance. We don’t see her dance though — a decision taken out of respect for the complex form. “To portray an Odissi performer takes a certain level of skill,” Kajol says. “You need to at least train for four to six months to look convincing. That’s why we haven’t kept a dance sequence in the film.”
Renuka adds that we don’t see classical forms highlighted in the mainstream. To include them in a movie, thus, is a way of reflecting our deep cultural heritage. “After the film, people have been telling me how they consider themselves to be ‘abhanga’ but their mothers are ‘samabhanga’. Just to hear these terms enter the public lexicon is great.”
Tribhanga is Renuka’s first feature film as director. Earlier this month, veteran actor Seema Pahwa made her directorial debut with Ram Prasad Ki Tervi, another intimate story about family. Renuka says it’s been fulfilling to explore this new dimension as an artist. “As an actor, you can get slightly distant from your work. But being a writer-director is such an immersive process. You have to be committed to a film till the end. So it’s been a journey balancing my acting, home, and now direction.”
With the film behind her, Kajol advises her director to soak it all in with a glass of champagne.
“Which I hate by the way,” Renuka laughs.
“Acha, kokum will also do…”