Cinematographer-turned-director’s Avinash Arun Dhaware’s Three of Us takes back to the Konkan, the setting of his affecting feature debut Killa (2014). The Marathi-language Killa explored a young boy’s adjustment to his changed circumstances against the backdrop of coconut trees and a calm sea. In the Hindi drama Three of Us, the verdant surroundings can’t quell the restlessness of a middle-aged woman who has been diagnosed with early dementia.
Shailaja (Shefali Shah) wants to revisit her childhood home before she forgets it entirely. She has an early memory buried in her village that she needs to excavate. More crucially, her childhood crush still lives there. Pradeep (Jaideep Ahlawat) is sensitive to Shailaja’s quest for closure, indulging her memories and giving her the solace that is missing in her marriage to Dipankar (Swanand Kirkire).
Much has changed between Arun’s two features (he directed the web series Paatal Lok and School of Lies in between). The balance in Killa between a focused plot and the unhurried rhythms of observational storytelling is missing in Three of Us. The new movie doesn’t quite come together, especially in its stilted exploration of Shailaja’s unfinished business with Pradeep or her tense relationship with her husband.
The screenplay, by Dhaware, Omkar Barve and Arpita Chatterjee, keeps sentimentality firmly at bay, but can’t avoid banality from registering its presence. Pradeep’s regret over losing Shailaja doesn’t ring as true as his equation with his feisty wife Sarika (Kadambari Kadam). Although solidly played by Ahlawat, Pradeep – an amateur poet who writes in Hindi and has a distinctly north Indian manner – sticks out in this Marathi corner of Maharashtra.
The Konkan setting, beautifully lensed by Dhaware, serves largely as window dressing for a movie with bare shelves where meaty scenes needed to have been. A segue into local folklore about water spirits is neither here nor there.
The gentle pacing is among the film’s assets, allowing us a decent measure of Shailaja’s needs while also creating some fine moments between Shailaja and Pradeep. A sequence on a Ferris wheel is an apt metaphor for Shailaja’s inability to let go as well as Pradeep’s predicament about her sudden re-appearance.
Is Pradeep merely indulging Shailaja or has an old flame really been rekindled? The movie has a few welcome silences and an ungainly void where clarity needed to be.