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Ship of Theseus: A Perspective

Ship of Theseus PosterThe Sydney Film Festival has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. In recent years, there have been numerous Indian movies, short movies and documentaries that have been showcased in the festival. I have been fortunate enough to see some fantastic movies before some others around the world get an opportunity to see them.

Last year I saw Gangs of Wasseypur (both parts) in a marathon 5+ hour session. I had encouraged many of my friends to buy tickets for what I told them was to be the greatest gangster epic since The Godfather (to give them some context). It received a standing ovation from everyone present. The global appeal of the movie encouraged me further. I have since shared my DVD of Gangs of Wasseypur with many friends and colleagues and they loved it – in spite of the horrendously tacky sub-titles which nullify the essence of many scenes. These people have since borrowed (and some have purchased) DVD’s of other movies by Kashyap, Bala, etc. One Serbian friend of mine also managed to dig up Satya and told me how Kashyap had written that one – assuming I didn’t know.

I have also managed to get a few people to see Q’s Gandu. Not many enjoyed it and the few desi friends that I shared it with said ‘scenes sahi the… movie bouncer tha’. I wish I could share some of the brilliant Tamil movies from the last few years. However, we all know that we will probably never see an official DVD (with decent sub-titles) for Subramaniapuram, Aaranya Kandam, etc.

The point I am trying to make is the importance of ‘word of mouth’. We are all passionate about good cinema and are fortunate to be in the midst of what everyone calls the resurgence of independent film-makers. It is our responsibility to ensure that we personally do as much as possible to support what we are passionate about. These film-makers have never needed our support more than now. And enthusiasm is infectious.

This brings me to Ship of Theseus. I have been hearing about this movie for a long time. I read about the buzz it created in the various Film Festivals and have been excited to see it for a while now. I saw Ship of Theseus listed to be screened in the Sydney film festival 2013, bought tickets right away, called friends and asked them to buy tickets and we all waited for 16th June, 2013. On that day, not only did I get to see this astounding movie, but I was also fortunate to spend the evening sitting and talking to Anand Gandhi, who was in Sydney since he was part of the jury for the SIFF.

By now most of us would be aware of what the title of this movie stands for. Theseus was the King of Athens known for his heroics. Well… he obviously had a ship to aid his cause. Over time, each rotting plank of this ship was replaced one by one with a new plank till there were no original planks in the ship. So is it, then, the same ship? A similar theory was first pursued by Heraclitus who wondered whether one can step into the same river twice since a river is a constant stream of water and continually undergoes changes. Anand juxtaposes this philosophy with the human body.

The movie has three stories which are very different in terms of characters and plot; and yet not at all different in terms of the philosophy behind them.

The first story is about Aaliya. This character lost her vision to a cornea infection and yet manages to find enough motivation to travel to India and become a photographer. Aaliya makes us believe that she is passionate about what she does notwithstanding her disability. Aaliya is wonderfully played by Aida El Kashef who brings just enough gravitas to this character. Anand told us that Aida had come over to assist him and ended up stumbling into this role. That is incredible since it would seem that the role was written with her in mind. This story leaves us wondering whether not having sight is in fact a disability at all; especially in Aaliya’s case.

The second story is about Maitreya. He is a monk who belongs to a spiritual sect which seems to be an amalgamation of various religions and cultures. Maitreya is an animal rights activist and nothing will make him compromise his cause; be it extreme discomfort, threats to his life or liver cirrhosis. His arguments with a young lawyer, interestingly named Charvaka, underscore this story. Well known theatre actor Neeraj Kabi is excellent in his role of Maitreya. Anand mentioned that Neeraj lost upto 30 pounds whilst enacting this role. He also mentioned that Vinay Shukla, who plays Charvaka, is a talent to watch out for. This was the most impactful story in the movie for me. It will make you question everything from the role your existence plays in this capricious circle of life to the practicality and necessity of adapting to change.

The third story is about Naveen. He is a stock broker who is recovering from a successful kidney transplant. A conversation with his grandmother provides him with the impetus to pursue something greater than just financial gain. Naveen is dogged in his resolve to find and understand the circumstances of the donor of (what is now) his new kidney. The scene in which the stockbroker and his stocky friend making their way through by lanes of a crowded and congested Mumbai suburban area in search of the donor is laced with subtle humour but can be construed as a metaphor for finding one’s path. Naveen takes us along on his journey of introspection and Sohum Shah generates the right amount of pathos to help us connect with his character’s dilemma.

Beautiful cinematography from Pankaj Kumar adds to the impact of every scene. Numerous shots leave a mental imprint thanks to the sheer resplendence of the canvas.

Anand Gandhi has made a marvellous movie for what is his first full length feature film. Sometimes we are naïve and think we’d never read anything negative about a movie that overwhelms us. But I did find certain articles which questioned if this movie actually deserves the praise it is getting and if it actually is a hollow film? I understand the appeal in being part of the pseudo-intelligentsia who are plaguing blogs and social networks, but any genuine scepticism towards the movie and its maker can be dispelled as soon as you meet Anand Gandhi and spend time with him.

It is quite unbelievable that this is the same guy who wrote 80 odd episodes of the popular ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ and ‘Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki’ TV serials. But if you have seen those TV shows, his short films ‘Right here right now’ and ‘Continuum’ or even his talk in TED, you will notice one thing in everything he makes or writes – unadulterated innocence. An innocence that has not been spoilt by his surroundings or the bad habits one can pick up in that unforgiving industry. And this is exactly how he is in real life – down to earth with a child like exuberance. We sat together and discussed the movie for many hours. He was forthcoming with information and was open to all questions. He would never tell you what his thoughts were behind a scene without first hearing your interpretation – “I would like to hear what you thought of it?” is what he would say. His experiences and other insightful anecdotes surrounding SoT were very interesting. We discussed other movies, film-makers, politics, etc. and I realised that I shared more with this man than just my first name and initials. He then had to leave for the ‘closing night party’ of SIFF and wished us well and disappeared into the city. My better-half turned to me and said “He hasn’t made that movie for the heck of it. He believes in it. He actually wants to convey a message…”

Ship of Theseus forces you to look at what makes up your identity as a person. The movie leaves you with several questions which are not necessarily about the characters and how their lives will go on, but about life itself. Your life. The lives of others around you. The lives of all sentient beings. It raises pertinent questions on how our identity is influenced by external factors and how we constantly adapt and evolve. It forces you to introspect, question your ethos and helps reform your moral fibre. Anand does not infuse emotion or make literal representations of what he believes in. He lets you make what you want to make of it.

There is a reason why there are reviews which claim this is a life changing movie. Ship of Theseus deserves a viewing. Support the movie when it releases. Spread the word if you like it. Go indulge in some soul searching for the price of one movie ticket.

Let us continue to support our independent film-makers. I aspired to be one too. I gave up and opted for the easy way out. These guys never gave up. They pursued their dreams. They are now living our dreams. And we need to back them.

- Anand G

By: Admin
Posted: June 26, 2013, 7:29 pm


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