Is Netflix’s Three of Us Inspired by a True Story?

‘Three of Us,’ with acclaimed director Avinash Arun at the helm, narrates a somber story of a woman diagnosed with dementia who returns to her childhood town and undergoes loss, love, and remembrance. Shailaja Desai and her husband travel to a coastal Konkan town after she is diagnosed with dementia and wants to relive her childhood memories before it is too late. She meets old friends and her school crush, Pradip Kamat. Shailaja and Pradip reconnect as they venture through old classrooms and wooded retreats, with their memories of them seeming as though they were of a past lifetime. The time spent together rekindles both their spirits, bringing long-lost thrill and excitement into their lives. The tale navigates very grounded, relatable experiences, and poignant moments of introspection, making one wonder if it is inspired by real-life events.

Is Three of Us Based on a True Story?

‘Three of Us’ is not based on a true story but is inspired by incidents in the director’s personal life. Avinash Arun, who had a major role in writing the film as well, was deeply impacted by his mother’s mental illness and the pandemic, wanting to express himself through a story of heartfelt sentiments. He had spent his childhood in the Konkan region and looked for reasons to return to its nostalgic shores whenever possible. The cinematography focusing on rustic elements and the slow-paced shots in the movie, make the filmmaker’s love for the region evident.

The film is incredibly grounded, taking a deep look into common people, their lives, and their struggles, resonating with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. While the subject matter of the film may be ordinary, the discussion of mental illness and its transformative effects is rare on the silver screen. Yet there have been some prominent films made in Bollywood that have highlighted mental illness and dementia with a similarly introspective tone.

‘U Me Aur Hum’ by Ajay Devgn starring Kajol Devgn, tells the story of a newly married couple who has to deal with a sudden development of Alzheimer’s, leading to dementia. Ajay, while on a cruise with his friends meets a waitress, Piya, and falls in love with her. The two get married, but within a few months, Piya begins to forget where she is, wandering and getting lost. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that leads to memory and function loss. Of all the cases of dementia in the world, 60-70% are estimated to have Alzheimer’s.

While being in a different genre, the 2008 film, ‘Ghajini,’ became incredibly popular for its protagonist losing his memory every fifteen minutes and using an elaborate system of notes and tattoos to remind himself of his mission of revenge. Sanjay (Aamir Khan), did not have dementia, but Anterograde amnesia due to a traumatic brain injury. The mysterious illness prevents one from forming new memories beyond the event of trauma, but the patient remembers everything before then. Dementia on the other hand usually occurs through degeneration of the brain, which eventually makes one lose all their memories and other bodily functions.

The celebrated 2005 film, ‘Black,’ delved into a poignant story of disability and mental illness. Michelle (Rani Mukerji) is a blind and deaf girl who is taught to express herself by an elderly alcoholic teacher, Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan). She flourishes under his guidance, grows older, and is working towards a bachelor’s degree, when Debraj develops Alzheimer’s. She is able to help him remember glimmers of his past through his own teachings and accomplishments with her.

‘Three of Us’ is a passion project that adds to a rare breed of heartfelt cinematic experiences that lend themselves to the expression of mental illness and its accompanying introspection. In the film, Avinash Arun did not want to focus on the illness itself, but more on the transformation it causes within Shailaja, making her look at life with new light in her eyes, cherishing every moment she can remember. Arun even cut out a scene of her getting lost, believing that having dementia as the backdrop was scary enough, and more fear did not need to be introduced. The film thus takes inspiration from the personal experiences of the director, is set in his childhood home, and pursues profound emotions arising from being closer to mortality, delivering an authentic, thought-provoking, and touching experience.

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