What’s the best gift you can give anyone? Maybe your word — that you will never forget them. But in Three of Us, Pradeep (Jaideep Ahlawat) will smile and accept whatever of him Shailaja (Shefali Shah) manages to remember. (Also Read: Three of Us director on film’s theatrical release: Digital platforms told us they only want commercial films)

Shefali Shah, Jaideep Ahlawat and Swanand Kirkire in Three of Us
Shefali Shah, Jaideep Ahlawat and Swanand Kirkire in Three of Us

Memory is a trenchant theme for any story, both in literature and cinema. If done well, it cuts deep. The Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón took his own and arranged them into the ultimate screen autobiography of all times, Roma (2019). The Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul wielded it in his winding 2021 opus, Memoria. Earlier this year, Celine Song stunned the world with the haunting and heartbreaking Past Lives.

What’s Three of Us about?

Killa (2014) director Avinash Arun’s contemplative return to the Konkan, Three of Us belongs to its own very league. It stars Shefali Shah, who needs little more than her peepers to make you choke (and I did, no less than thrice during my watching of it). She plays Shailaja, a middle-aged Mumbaikar, who asks her husband Dipankar (Swanand Kirkire) to accompany her on a trip to Vengurla, a sleepy hamlet in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg. The mild-mannered life insurance agent obliges, even though he is used to making his wife get off the dinner table for salt that he needs. They land up in the scenic village where she spent four years as a young girl.

In Vengurla, Shailaja quietly reunites with her band of childhood friends, who seem to have little difficulty in recognising her 28 years after they last saw her. Shailaja, visiting her childhood sweetheart Pradeep at the local bank where he is an employee, gets her name on a piece of paper handed to him. Gobsmacked at first as the torrent of memories hits him (thankfully, without cheesy flashbacks that mainstream films employ), Pradeep, played by a terrific Jaideep Ahlawat, agrees to Shailaja’s unspoken and abrupt demand for a reunion. A harmonious, unassuming finale to the halcyon days of their lives.

And so, they tour this physical palimpsest of her fragile memory together, hitting up their old haunts and catching up on the past. Pradeep’s characterisation is excellent — a man who does not trust other men easily, and contrary to his towering stature and robust countenance, writes and embroiders to process his emotions. The same is true of Dipankar, whose subtle generosity both mirrors and transcends that of Arthur (John Magaro), the lead protagonist’s husband contending with her past in Past Lives, the film that Three of Us will at first remind you of. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Why should you watch Three of Us?

Unlike Nora’s latent hankering for her childhood cut short in South Korea, Shailaja’s yearning for the past gets a more immediate raison d’etre. Her desire to rush back to her childhood village is so helplessly intractable that she must and absolutely must retreat to a certain period in time. In a short exchange between her and Pradeep’s wife Sarika, the film beautifully answers why everyone in this story is so generous and patient. Shailaja and Pradeep offer no definition, explanation or justification for the ease with which they have bonded anew, and their spouses settle for it. It is what it is.

Anyone who has seen Avinash’s previous work needs no introduction to his talents as a cinematographer. His static shots and languid pans, extensive enlistment of shadows and the odd aerial shot form an evocative clutch of moments. They belong to a woman experiencing a life-altering event and probing fervently for her “udgam”, or origin, as Pradeep puts it in one of his poems. Avinash gives Three of Us a sprinkling of sparse dialogue, judicious symbolism, and many silent moments without expressing the slightest awareness of how singularly effective this exercise in memory is.

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