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Director Avinash Arun: Three of Us is about coming to terms with the act of letting go- Cinema express

Director Avinash Arun: Three of Us is about coming to terms with the act of letting go

The Paatal Lok director on memory, nostalgia and making a film for your soul

Published: 13th November 2023

A series gets postponed, a film gets made. In 2020, director Avinash Arun was basking in the success of Paatal Lok, the acclaimed neo-noir crime thriller he directed along with Prosit Roy. The pandemic, however, delayed the second season indefinitely. “I was desperate to do something,” shares Avinash, adding that the success of the show boosted his confidence. “I made my first film back in 2015 (Killa) but after that I had mostly worked as a cinematographer and director for commissioned projects. When season 2 got stalled, I decided to focus on the stories I had.”

The idea for Three of Us had resided with Avinash for long but he was always apprehensive. “I kept thinking it is a small film, will it ever get made?” he says. But once he gave a narration to producer Sanjay Routray of Matchbox Pictures, things started falling in place. “Varun (Grover) read the script and offered to pen the dialogues for it. Shefali Shah too got on-board. But we actually found the film once we started shooting.”

Three of Us is a tender rumination into the life of Shailaja Desai (Shefali Shah), a middle-aged woman, who has been diagnosed with retrograde amnesia. She decides to go back to her native village in the Konkan region to grab on to the slipping memories of her childhood. Her reserved husband Dipankar (Swanand Kirkire) accompanies her. In the hamlet, she encounters old haunts, friends and a love that could have been (Jaideep Ahlawat as Pradip Kamat). Shefali plays Shailaja with a wide-eyed wonder of recognizing and recollecting. “I am not a fan of giving character briefs. It’s all in the script. I want my actors to read between the lines,” says Avinash. “Shefali’s performance was a mix of what was conveyed in the script and what both of us were feeling when we were shooting at a certain location. It was about the alignment of her emotions and mine. It was like working with a close friend, who gets you and needs no explanations.” Although Avinash did think of Swanand (“His view on things aligned with mine”), Jaideep, for Pradip’s role, never crossed his mind. “I knew he was busy with other projects. I sent the script to other actors, some understood the film, some didn’t. But when I finally sent it to Jaideep and he read it, he called me and said that he couldn’t let this one go.”

An urge to look back is evident in Avinash’s work. His debut feature Killa (2015) revolved around an 11-year-old trying to adapt to a life in a Konkan village after his mother gets transferred there from Pune. Born in Maharashtra’s Solapur, Avinash himself spent some childhood years in the coastal town of Murud. “I am a nostalgic person,” he confesses. “I like delving into my past and reliving those moments. I never leave a chance to go back to Konkan, to the places I grew up in. I do it for my soul, to rejuvenate myself.”

Three of Us is about the brittleness of memory, the melancholy of a time gone by and about trying to find your Udgam (origin). It constantly poses the question, ‘Are we still us without our memories?’. “I think humans tend to make sense of who they are by jumping into the timelines of past, present and future,” ponders Avinash. “But what if your memories start fading away? How do you deal with it? I think, for me, the film is about how you come to terms with the act of letting go.”

Shailaja lets go but without any dramatic explosions. Each scene in the film has a certain dryness, a calming mundanity. “Life goes on very slowly,” says Avinash. “I always saw the story of this couple (Shailaja and Dipankar) span-out in a week. We could have gone for some big altercations and overly intense scenes showing this woman forgetting her life. But that would have sped things up. I wanted the viewer to get a sense of time passing.”

We ask Avinash if, after the intense School of Lies (2023) and Paatal Lok, shooting for Three of Us was a meditative experience. “It was actually,” he says. “I had to make this film. It was something I would have liked to watch.”

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