Sometimes it is best to leave a few thoughts unsaid, while on other occasions it helps to lend them a voice. In Anand Gandhi’s debut feature Ship Of Theseus, there are moments in which you feel there was too little said. There are also moments that disturb you with the raw articulation of the filmmaker’s vision. Many an analogy is oversimplified and many a philosophy is overcomplicated. The final product is breathtakingly beautiful and refreshingly different, but whether it is as thought-provoking and deeply philosophical as it is touted to be is the question.
A blind photographer wonders whether she has lost her true sight after a cornea transplant; a monk who fought vehemently against animal testing of medicines has to either succumb to liver cirrhosis or compromise on his high-held principles; a stockbroker goes in search of a labourer’s stolen kidney from Mumbai to Stockholm—these are the three stories that form the narrative of Ship Of Theseus.
Aliya (Aida El-Kashef), the blind photographer, has a clear idea of what she wants and what she doesn’t. She warns her boyfriend to stay away from sympathising with her and patronising her work. She finds it difficult to understand why a reporter who interviews her exclaims that it’s amazing that Aliya doesn’t feel limited because of her disability. After she undergoes a cornea transplant, she wonders whether her works are in fact art or just accidents. But that is the sole struggle Gandhi’s protagonist goes through. After her sight is restored, Aliya faces no difficulty in moving around or engaging in any other day-to-day activity. This leaves us wondering whether there are no other immediate dilemmas other than her lost perspective that Aliya has to deal with.
In the next segment of the movie, Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), a monk, has to make a call between life and death. And, if he chooses to live, his principles, that he had been defending and fighting for all his life, are at stake. He decides to let his body perish and that slow and painful process makes him realise that letting his life go is not as easy as he thought it would be. Maitreya engages in many philosophical conversations with Charvaka (Vinay Shukla), a young lawyer friend of his, during the course of the film. Conversations that makes sure that there is nothing that is left unsaid. The dialogues in this section are too in-your-face and Gandhi leaves the viewer with very less or nothing to ponder about. He does not care to dwell into the decision that the monk finally arrives at, leaving the viewer in the dark.
The third story features a young stockbroker, Navin (Sohum Shah), who has just undergone a kidney transplant and is nursing his unwell grandmother, an erstwhile activist. She accuses him of his self-serving ways which makes him wonder whether wanting to make money and live comfortably makes him a bad person. Navin’s dilemma is relatable and the surprisingly subtle humour thrown in makes it the most real of the three segments. In the final sequence, when his grandmother comforts Navin saying that “this is as good as it gets”, it gives his story a sort of closure making it the only one which feels complete in its own right.
Ship of Theseus is no doubt a visual stunner, thanks to the outstanding talent behind the camera, Pankaj Kumar. But there are a few long drawn-out sequences in the film which does not do much but add to the length of the film. The biggest discovery of this film, however, is the actors it introduces. Ship Of Theseus can boast superlative performances by every actor who appears on screen. Be it El-Kashef’s crude portrayal of Aliya, Kabi’s calm and tranquil Maitreya or the innocent Navin that Shah breathes life into, Gandhi has got it right with his cast. With performances so strong and committed, it is unfortunate that the overrated climax of the film appears inconclusive.
But this doesn’t go to say that Gandhi’s film is dishonest or pretentious. Gandhi attempts to stimulate an intellectual and engaging discourse on the questions of identity and mortality. It is, however, too far-fetched and unfair to call Ship Of Theseus a revolution in Indian cinema. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is surely one of the better films to have come out this year.
Film: Ship of Theseus
Director: Anand Gandhi
Cast: Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah