‘Ship of Theseus’ review: An intellectually stimulating work of cinema art
A blind but superb photographer, an ailing monk fighting for animal rights and a stock broker who has got a kidney transplant done are three characters whose stories, when woven in a single thread, can be referred to as ‘Ship of Theseus’. A debut vehicle of Anand Gandhi, this film is strictly for a niche audience for a fact that it has been kept clear from any usual Bollywood paraphernalia that defines commercial cinema.
The premise of Gandhi’s film is the Theseus’s paradox, as first noted by the philosopher Plato, which argues that if the parts of an object (say a ship) are replaced one by one, would it still retain its original identity? And if the old parts of the same object are gathered to make a similar piece, then, which one deserves the right to be called the original object? The film debates over this paradox via the situations the three protagonists face in their lives, all of whom have got an organ transplanted.
In the first of the three stories, a girl named Aliya (Aida El-Kashef) can click remarkable pictures like a pro but her professional excellence goes for a toss when her eyesight is restored. Alia finds it difficult to cope with her new found vision that was meant to enhance her way of tackling her art. She finds herself dealing with the loss of her prized possession – her blindness – when she realises that she is no longer able to click pictures like an ace.
The narrative then moves on to the story of Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), a monk fighting tooth and nail in the court of law against animal testing by cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies. What makes this monk different from his breed is the fact that he is an atheist but believes that every human being is liable for his or her own actions and contribution of any kind – big or small- can make a different in the higher scheme of things. His belief system gets shaken-up when he gets diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, and is left with no choice but to get a transplant done and give into popping pills tested on animals for his recovery. This section of the film debates on how realistic or practical it is in today’s world to hold on to one’s principles when life throws tough challenges on our path to test your diligence. And this is well highlighted by several dialogues exchanged between the monk and his ‘protégé’, aptly represented as two sides of the same coin with conflicting beliefs. Like the protégé argues, “What is the difference between you and a suicide bomber who is so convinced about the fundamentalism of his thoughts?”
The paradox gets a break here when the monk, after living with his principles with an unbearable pain, gives in to the need of getting a liver transplant done, thus giving up his old belief system for a new one.
The third story shows Navin (Sohum Shah), a serious stock broker, being prodded by his maternal grandmother to connect with his compassionate side by contributing himself to societal well-being in some way or another. Life presents this opportunity before him when he finds out that the kidney that now is pumping life in his body is actually a stolen one. It turns out that his kidney has been stolen from a poor man called Shankar. But further investigation proves otherwise. Navin, guided by the desire to do well, dedicates himself to the cause of restoring Shankar’s kidney.
The story sums up the premise when the three protagonists unite at the same place for an event organised for the deceased organ donor of the lead trio of the film.
To put it straight, ‘Ship of Theseus’ is a film that has no one meaning attached to it; several conclusions can be drawn from it. It preaches and debates highly via the monk’s tale. It does not attempt to give answer to the centuries old debate on the paradox. It rather aims to explore it even more in a storytelling manner.
Anand Gandhi’s film should be strictly watched for three reasons: a) If you like challenging your intellect b) If you love art cinema c) If you want your eyes to absorb Pankaj Kumar’s spellbinding visuals.
Rating: 3 star