Tribhanga — A Movie About Mothers and Daughters


A Netflix original about complex mom-daughter relationships

Photo by The HK Photo Company on Unsplash

Our reactions to books and movies are a factor of where we are in our own lives. And what life experiences we have gone through.

If I had watched this 1.5 hour Netflix Original movie about 15 years ago, I would have dismissed it completely. But today was different — very different. I am a mother now and perspectives change once you are a parent. I hung on to every scene and every word. Cried. Laughed. Cussed (in my head). And absolutely enjoyed every moment of it.

Tribhanga is the story of three generations of women. A mother (Nayan), a daughter (Anu), and a granddaughter (Masha).

Anu is the pivotal character and much of the story revolves around her emotions. She is feisty. And beautiful. And a famous film star. And most important of all, her name is Anu 🙂

Nayan, the mother, is a writer. Famous. Passionate. So much so that her mother-in-law accuses her of ignoring all housework when she is caught up in her writing. Relatable since I write quite a bit nowadays. Except — my mother-in-law is super sweet and highly supportive of anything I do.

But you begin to see how the movie is relatable to me at different levels. I am guessing the movie will be relatable to most women because mother-daughter relationships are most beautiful but equally complex.

The story begins with a simple middle-class family that includes a father, mother, daughter, son, and mother-in-law. Life seems perfect. Of course, it isn’t. Nayan loves to write and the mother-in-law loves to taunt her. Nayan’s husband tries his best to balance it all. But to no avail. Nayan loses it when the mother-in-law insinuates that she might continue to write even if the kids were dying.

Nayan moves out with the kids and carves her own life. She publishes her books and wins awards. She also fights a court battle to uphold the right to give the kids her name as their last name. A tough stance during the highly conservative 1980s.

Nayan also finds herself a new husband who turns out to be an animal. While she is not looking, he forces himself upon little Anu. That’s when Anu starts getting angry with Nayan. Anu begins to blame Nayan for messing up her life. We find out later (along with Anu) that Nayan was clueless about it all.

The rest of the movie revolves around the complex relationship between the mom and daughter and the daughter’s anger towards the mom.

We see glimpses of each personality, the choices they made, and the consequences of their choices. We also see how a lack of transparent communication created such deep trenches between them.

We understand both points of view and wonder why they don’t communicate. We wonder about the complexity of human nature — where there is hate alongside immense love.

Somewhere in between this intricate web of lives, Anu befriends a Russian, has a lovely baby girl, throws the abusive Russian out of the house, becomes a movie star, and gains fame as an Odissi dancer.

Anu continues to hate her mom and cuts off all ties with her.

We realize that once we believe someone is wrong, every action adds up and begins to look wrong. It is a unidirectional rabbit hole. Anu questions everything her mom Nayan does and concludes that her mom is wrong.

Incidentally, Anu has a colorful vocabulary that makes your ears turn pink at times. But I really loved how she explained why it makes more sense to use the word fuck on occasion. That word definitely packs emotion! I buy her argument completely!

Meanwhile, Masha grows into a sweet young girl completely unlike the two generations before her. She finds herself a joint family complete with grandfather, father, mother, sons, daughters-in-law, kids, and the whole package. Masha wants to make up for the lack of family while growing up by belonging to a full house.

While Nayan and Anu fiercely guard their personas and are unwilling to bend for anyone, all Masha wants is a ‘normal’ life and she is willing to sacrifice anything for it.

In the middle of all this enters Milan. Milan is a huge fan of Nayan’s writing and is helping her write her autobiography. His interactions with Nayan and the information he pieces together help Anu see Nayan in a different light.

Anu meets Milan and has long conversations with him due to a twist of fate. Nayan falls sick and goes into a coma. No matter how much Anu claims to hate Nayan, at her heart she is still tightly bound to her mom. Anu spends days on end at the hospital and slowly begins to understand Nayan’s depth of love for her kids through Milan.

The turning point is interesting. Anu realizes that she was doing unto Masha exactly what she thought Nayan had done to her. A moment of awakening.

The movie touched me in so many ways.

Seeing Nayan on the hospital bed with tubes all over reminded me of my mom. I love my mom so dearly and it is never easy to see a loved one in that state. I did not cry much when mom left forever, but I cried as I watched the movie.

Watching Anu misunderstanding her mom and throwing her out of the house was gut-wrenching. I see why Anu did what she did. But I also felt the raw sadness on Nayan’s face. Parents pretty much live for their kids. Yet, if parents and kids can’t find ways to communicate freely with each other, the chasm grows into the Mariana trench in spite of both parties being equally fond of each other. Love exists, but with a wide uncrossable trench in between.

I loved the conversation between Anu and her daughter, Masha. An honest and open conversation that revealed the depth of Masha’s thoughts and feelings. If only all conversations can be free like that.

Finally, the most important message in the movie was to forgive our loved ones. To let go.

We operate on misconceptions and a view that we are always good and right. Therefore we never forgive others, especially the ones we love the most. The movie drives home the point that there is so much we don’t know and that we do wrong as well.

In the wise words of Anu’s brother and Nayan’s son Robindro — sometimes you get the chance to make up for all misunderstandings with someone in this life. And sometimes, you may have to wait and live through several births to get a chance to make peace with each other.

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