In Conversation with Sohum Shah: On Ship of Theseus and More

Soham ShahOne of the most talked about Indian indie films in the recent past is Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus which is finally seeing it’s Indian theatrical release on 19th July. MAM got an opportunity recently to have a chat with Sohum Shah, the producer and one of the main actors in the film, here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

The promos and publicity of Ship of Theseus promise a unique cinema experience. How did you start your journey with the movie?

Common friends got me in touch with Anand. He was on the lookout for the cast of the movie and I got to audition. Things worked out and I was on board as an actor.

You also are the producer of the film. What made you jump in with the money?

There was a point while making the film when things got to an absolute dead end. No one wanted to back the film with their money, producers were running away giving the usual excuses, no stars, the story is not mainstream etc.  They had a problem with the name, Ship of Theseus and the languages it was in.  I saw Anand struggle with protecting the vision he had for the movie. I did not want him to compromise on the story, not for the want of money. That is when I decided to step in as a producer as well. To protect the content and the dignity of the vision, I decided to take the plunge.

So in the face of so many producers not wanting to back the film, were you not worried about loses?

Not at all. In fact I saw and still see my investment like investing in a painting or in art. The money will come back in the long term, that is not an issue. See, here with the film we have a really strong story that is unique and beautiful. I did not think twice before investing. I wanted Anand to make the film the way he wanted to, without any compromise. That was my only aim.

The story of Ship of Theseus is indeed unique. Do you as a producer worry about finding an audience for a film like this?

There is an audience, of course there is. College students, who spend a lot of time searching for quality online, people who are hungry for something unique, something different, people who read about and are interested in philosophy…there is an audience.

And you think there are a lot many of them? Enough to get the Box Office ringing?

See, our film is made on a very tight small budget. Getting that back is pretty easy and a lot of it has already been recovered. We are releasing this movie not for a mass audience, our target is a niche set of people who like and appreciate such a film, and our efforts are to make sure they see the movie. That alone is enough for us.

So do you think there ever will be a mass audience for a film like Ship of Theseus in India?

 There will be… there is I’d rather say. We have had Kahaani , a small film that made huge … and was loved by the audiences. Barfi, though with big stars, was not a mainstream film- it was a huge risk that paid off, big time. Paan Singh Tomar is another film that comes to my mind. The last one to two years have seen content rise tall in Hindi cinema. Audiences need good cinema, whatever mould it may be. Give them quality content and they will appreaciate it.

Barfi, Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, all of them still had stars- the stars got the audiences into the theatres…

Yes they did. And the star of my film is the content. I believe there are two kinds of movie goers- first are the ones who want to take their wives, kids and family out on the weekend, catch a movie, have food outside and come back- for them, any movie that gives instant entertainment is ok. Then there are the second kind, who go watch a film because they want to watch the film. They wait for a movie to release and religiously come see it, for its content, for its director, the actor or whatever reason. The second set of audiences are our target here. They are the ones we need to make our films for.

So how easy is it to reach them? To make a film without compromises and get it released?

Not that tough actually, in todays times. We were ready with Ship of Theseus by September last, and by December we had UTV and Kiran Rao backing us. The film is today getting a limited release across the country and it is not even an year since we made the film. Multiplexes have changed the way cinema reaches the audiences, it is a boon for niche cinema like ours. I wish though that the government did a little more, in terms of finding finances, avenues to screen the films in spaces where like-minded people can come and enjoy art. Having said that, it is not as bad a state as one imagines

Kiran Rao backs your film, how did that come about?

Sohum- She saw the movie at the  festival last year and loved it. She asked us how she could be a part of the movie. We figured she could be a presenter. After her, UTV came on board too. And the rest as they say is history.

Kiran said in an interview recently that she is glad Aamir is not associated with the film as that would increase audience expectations from the movie, and give them the wrong impression of the film since this is not a movie meant for all to appreciate. While that is true, is the opposite also not right? Doesn’t having Kiran on your side not brand your film as an off beat one?

But then my film is off beat. And that is the reason why Kiran is the best association for the movie. She comes with a sensibility, Dhobi Ghaat is what people associate her with. My film is in the genre in so much as being non mainstream. We are looking for the people who came to see Dhobi Ghaat and liked it, that is our audience. Not the ones who would be put off by the idea of off beat.

Was it difficult  for you to sell the idea to UTV?

On the contrary, both Kiran and UTV’s Siddharth loved the film from the word go. It was easy, because like I said, the film is unique and it is difficult not to fall in love with it

A lot of international acclaim has come your way already. How has been the reception and the experience?

We have toured Tokyo, Toronto, London etc and lots of people have appreciated the film. The biggest factor that sets the film out is its uniqueness. This is not an inspiration from the west or an attempt to emulate the sensibilities of world cinema. What we have achieved with this film is a fresh unique universal language that questions existential ideas of identity, beauty and justice. That sets us apart completely.

Do you relate to the film’s sensibilities as an actor? Is this the kind of cinema you enjoy? Or do you like the regular mainstream stuff as well?

I like anything that is strong on content. In recent years, mainstream films like Rockstar, Lagaan , Rang De Basanti are a few of my favorites.

So how does Sohum the actor prepare for his roles?

I do not believe that acting can be learnt. Acting is a very intuitive process for me, something that comes from within me. One cannot really prepare for a role or learn acting in my opinion. I would say I have learnt acting with and within my own self. I have spent time and worked with wonderful creative minds like Anand, Nawaaz, and that has helped me realize that the process of acting is a very intrinsic one.

What do we look forward to from you now that Ship of Theseus is releasing?

I have just completed a horror drama set in the 1920’s called Tumbbad. Then there is a project with Anand again that we are discussing right now. So yeah, that’s about it.

Thank you so much for speaking to us. Wish you all the luck for Ship of Theseus.

Thank you.


By: ameetbhuvan
Posted: July 15, 2013, 3:40 pm


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