Okay, this is the review to read if you don’t want to see the movie but are curious. Or if you have seen the movie wand want to discuss it.
Whole plot in one paragraph:
Tanvi Azmi is a famous novelist who has a sudden stroke while talking to her biographer, Kunaal Roy Kapur. The hospital calls her daughter, the actress and classical dancer Kajol, who calls her daughter young married woman Mithila. Later, Kajol’s brother the priest Vaibhav Tatwawaadi also shows up. And Kajol’s loyal friend/manager Manav Gohil. Kajol snaps at Kunaal Roy Kapur and is still angry at her mother in a coma. We get flashbacks filling in that her mother, as a young married woman, took her children and left her husband because of abuse from her mother-in-law. She became a famous novelist but young Kajol and Vaibhav were humiliated at school as children of divorce. She then remarried a young romantic photographer who molested teenage Kajol. Kajol called her father for help, and he rejected her. Kajol finally became an actress and left home to live with her boyfriend. He abused her and she threw him out while pregnant with Mithila. After Mithila was born, Tanvi started a new relationship with an artist who helped smooth the edges and bring the women together. But when that relationship failed, Kajol and Tanvi became estranged again. She raised Mithila as a single working mother but, years later when Mithila fell in love and wanted to marry into a traditional combined family she supported her. She has never fully forgiven or trusted her mother after all that happened to her. Kajol talks this all over with Kunaal Roy Kapur and comes to a better understanding of her mother’s choices, but Tanvi dies before they can reconcile. 6 months later, Kunaal comes by Kajol’s apartment to drop off the first copy of his book, “Tribhanga”, the story of three generations of women.
The first third of this movie is pretty irresistible. You get to see Kajol being rude and tough and swearing and AWESOME at everybody. And tragedy is dealt with a nice cynical kind of black comedy. When we get into the first flashback, it has a fascinating structure. Tanvi starts by telling Kunaal she wants him to speak with her children because a person cannot truly know themselves from the inside, you have to also know how others see you. And that’s what the first flashback is. Tanvi remembers their life post her divorce, no more fights in the home, the children happily sleeping together, love and security and routine and fun and laughter. And Kajol remembers her version, being humiliated in school as a child of divorce. The thing is, both are true. Kajol has forgotten all the advantages post-divorce, the happiness at home. And Tanvi has ignored any thought of the downsides her children might have suffered. Seeing their contrasting memories of the past helps us understand the big gap between the two in the present.
And then in the middle of all this slow drawn out exploration of memory and past and mother-daughter relationships, we have Kunaal push Kajol to tell him more and her suddenly burst out with “I WAS MOLESTED!!!!!” And then the DRAMA!!!! We see her being molested, call her father for help, attempt to kill herself, grow up, be abused by her boyfriend, be angry at her mother for taking his side, and then give birth. It’s just so DRAMATIC. Especially since we are seeing it in flashback, all this sobbing and screaming an dramatic music in the background.
I have no issue with the actual plot points. The idea of Tanvi feeling rejected and unhappy post-divorce and falling in love with a young man who made her feel good again, with the repercussion of Kajol being molested is really interesting. Because Tanvi was at fault, sort of, she put her enjoyment of being young and happy ahead of her children and rushed into this relationship. But on the other hand, she had no idea and it never occurred to her that her husband was molesting her daughter. Which is what Kajol is angry about. Tanvi was wrong, but not as wrong as Kajol feels like she was wrong. And then with Tanvi not even knowing what happened, she has no ability to bridge the new gap between them. But then, why should Kajol (the abuse survivor) be expected to take responsibility for solving the gap? It’s a complicated situation with no right answer. Well, beyond “if your teenage daughter tries to kill herself, take her to therapy and let the therapist figure it out and clue you in and go from there”. Short of that, there’s no way for Kajol to say what happened to her Mom, and no way for Tanvi to figure out the right way to act without knowing it.
And then Kajol’s first serious relationship being an abusive disaster also makes sense. Of course she would be looking for a way out of her mother’s house, and of course she would have bad judgement in men. The follow-up, that she never again had a serious relationship, never brought a man home again, cut herself off from trusting anyone besides herself, also makes sense.
Just, don’t show them in this crazy crazy way!!!! Especially when we started the film all nice and cynical and black comedy-like. There were so many good things in this section too, but they were hidden with the drama. For instance, Kajol’s childhood abuse being known to Tanvi, and the world, thanks to an interview she gave years ago. That is just tossed off, but it is really interesting, this story is not some grand revelation for anyone. Kajol went through the processing and the therapy and the public reveal years ago, and her Mom knows about it now. That’s a very different abuse story, not the initial journey, but the reverberations years later. And when Kajol gives birth, there is a marvelous scene of her holding her baby and Tanvi coming to visit her, and Kajol hesitating before letting her mother hold the baby. It’s not a moment of anger and lashing out, it is a moment of vulnerability and sincere fear to hand a child to a woman she does not trust to keep a child safe.
I don’t know if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to understand the story without flashbacks, or didn’t trust them to stay interested without any drama, but this section would have been soooooooooooo much better if we just had a few light flashbacks scattered in and mostly had voice overs. Show Tanvi coming to Kajol’s house after she through out her abuser, but don’t show the actual scene of abuse. Show Kajol calling her father and asking to come home, but don’t show the molestation which drove her to that. And so on and so forth.
The last third pulls back to the tone of the first third, which just makes it more irritating that we have this melodrama in the middle. Mithila’s story is short and simple. We see Kajol meeting her in-laws for the first time, honestly telling them that she is divorced, she has had relationships, but Mithila is sweet and smart and loving and really wants to be part of their big happy combined family. And we see the head of the family happily welcoming Mithila. This is true, that her in-laws love her and accept her. But what is also true is that they forced her to have a sex determination test of her pregnancy. Which is illegal in India. And which comes with the implication that if she were to have a girl, they would have forced her to have an abortion. This bit is handled really REALLY well. Kajol is furious and shocked and asks how Mithila can ever get past this. Mithila says she isn’t as strong as her mother, it’s easier to just go along and stay accepted and loved in the family, she wants her child to have a secure loving family and not the insecurity and loneliness she had as a child. It’s another moment of two women just seeing things differently. For Kajol, this price is too high. For Mithila, it isn’t. Neither of them is necessarily wrong, Mithila said that if the test showed a girl she and her husband were just going to convince his family to accept it, sex selective abortion (the clear absolute wrong) was never on the table. But for Kajol, even going along with the possibility is a mistake.
What is unique and original and lovely is seeing the story of two sets of mothers and daughters, and how the mothers don’t even realize the harm they have done to their daughters. And how the daughters don’t understand the sacrifices their mothers have made for them. What is not unique and original and lovely is a woman beating her chest and sobbing as she reveals a history of abuse. BORING!!!