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February 11, 2024

Shefali Shah delivers a beautiful and towering performance in a film about the human condition, the power of friendship, and unconventional and timeless bonds, in The Three of Us.

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The Three of Us ☆☆☆☆

Starring: Shefali Shah, Swanand Kirkire, and Jaideep Ahlawat

Direction: Avinash Arun

Since her breakthrough performance in Delhi Crime, Shefali Shah has gone on to deliver such terrific performances and in so many different projects that it is hard to select just one role and say: ‘this is it’.

So, let’s not even go down that road.

This brings us to The Three of Us, a beautiful and devastating film in equal measure.

Shah (Shailaja) plays a woman with early on-set dementia. One minute she is there, and the next minute, she is not.

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The story is very simple. It is a condition which is not only known to her husband, Dipankar Desai (Swanand Kirkire) and those closest to her but also to Shah’s own character. She is not in denial and carries a notebook that includes everything she needs to do in a day. It is a vicious disease. And it is at the center of the story. It is an illness which drives her to visit a small town where she lived for a brief period during her school days. But her reason for visiting is not just nostalgia. She knows that with dementia, it is a matter of time before the disease takes over to such a degree that she might never get another chance.

All this is established within the first 20 minutes of the film. But before she visits, there are scenes that are absolutely gutting such as one where she is sitting on a park bench alone, and you don’t know if she’s even there.

Her son, in a conversation with his father over the phone, admits that he doesn’t know how to ask Shailaja about how she is doing and tells his father that if she does plan to visit an old town where she spent a small but memorable period of her life, he must go with her.

And as they sit in the train to go back in time, everything shifts. A quiet, vulnerable performance continues to emerge. The silence says more than dialogue-fueled scenes. Shailaja is going back, not just because she wants to visit old memories, but because she wants to retrace her steps, her roots, a door that had been closed by the relentless pace of everyday life. But with dementia, the time and space continuum, to her, was necessary.

As she goes back, a different version of her emerges, and surprises her husband and to some extent, even her.

When she meets old school friends, her demeanor is that of the teenager she once was. When she meets a love, now a married man Pradeep Kamat, upon whom the door was once closed, it is now opened again.

There are moments where she finds comfort in the presence of her former flame, and friend Kamat (played by Jaideep Ahlawat), who
is stoic, and often, they both let
silence speak volumes.

There are things that emerge as she revisits her days in this sleepy town that hasn’t changed due to urbanization.

But perhaps the most charming part is how so many of these steps in retracing a past, are taken in the company of her husband as well as her old flame. Instead of jealous spouses, we see a bond of marriage that is strong and is not wretched, in her case and in the case of Kamat, who is also married by now. In one scene, both men also speak candidly and quietly like they share love for a woman, irrespective of the roles within which they meet.

Is there trauma? Yes. Is there anything more traumatic than watching a life lived coming apart?

Amidst the greenery and away from the crowded lanes of city life, these characters shine in their unique connection to each other. The loss of love and rekindling, the purity and power of friendships, learning to (perhaps) heal and defiance of what is expected are the hidden ideas.

We fall in love with these characters because it is very easy. And when the film ends, you are left with deeper questions. Can you retrace your own past, knowing that friendships and love are not the only thing they contain? Can you find yourself, not the one lost in the humdrum of life as an adult, but as a younger person, knowing it would mean unearthing traumas but would also allow you to find your true self before time runs out?

In The Three of Us, there is no question that Shefali Shah is the actor who keeps you glued to this narrative but both actors, Jaideep Ahlawat and Swanand Kirkire, also deserve a round of applause for not falling short with a performer as monumental in each scene as Shefali Shah.

This isn’t the most conventional film. At its heart though, there is room for love, loss, childhood dreams, understanding your own roots, and the fragility of relationships and life itself.

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