Strange, isn't it, that "the most significant film to come out of India in a very long time" (International Press Reviews) would have never seen the light of day in this country, were it not for Kiran Rao? While one would want to applaud her for taking up the "cause", what does it say about Indians, who never touch a product unless it is endorsed by a celebrity? Are we really that star struck that we cannot think for ourselves? These and many other questions will haunt you once you finish watching Ship Of Theseus.
The title comes from Plutarch's musings on whether a ship, whose parts are removed only to be replaced by other parts, remains the same ship that existed before the renovation. You will realise the significance of the title once you have sat through 143 minutes of the movie (and you will not really realise how time flies).
Comprising three stories, Ship Of Theseus revolves around Mumbai, and the choices people make to improve their lives while still remaining true to their conscience and ethics.
The first tale introduces us to Aliya (Aida El-Kashef) a photographer. She is an artist, and her images are stunning, so it comes as a shock to learn that she is visually impaired.
With success and confidence already in her kitty, Aliya decides that she needs to opt for a corrective surgery, so that she can photograph better. With her vision intact, her other senses lose their importance, and she finds herself churning out mediocre photographs.
The second story, also the lengthiest, introduces us to Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), an atheist monk who is vehemently opposed to cosmetic and pharmaceutical testing on animals. He believes in karma, and therefore leads an almost-smug existence, happy with his own beliefs, till he is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis.
Now the dilemma - will he take drugs that have been tested on animals, or will he prefer to rot away just to hang on to his principles and ethics?
The third narrative takes us into the life of a successful stockbroker, Navin (Sohum Shah). His grandmother and his conscience convince him that it is time he gives something back to society. And then he discovers that he owes his life to a lie, or does he?
To find out, he has to explore avenues he had never imagined earlier, to bring joy into the lives of others, so that his scruples are not accused of being superficial.
All three stories deal with people who are happy, in a way, in their space, till they either decide to make a change, or a change is imposed on them. This change then takes a bit of their original self away, but do they otherwise remain the same person? That is the question that director Anand Gandhi poses with his film.
Each story is narrated with enough pathos to twist your heart, and to hold your attention. The monk's tale, though, is slightly convoluted, with heavy dialogues, and you may get a little restless there.
As mentioned above, it is a lengthy movie, and comic relief is practically non-existent, so you may leave the theatre with a heavy head.
Cinematography is the main hero here, capturing the city of Mumbai like it has never been seen before. Both the direction and the cinematography departments are clearly influenced by the European style of filmmaking, and it works.
Once you accept that it is a depressing movie, in a way, the production and costume designs only add to the atmosphere, and they will suck you into a world that you know exists, but have never cared to visit.
The actors in all three segments are more than perfect, and it helps that none of them are well-known names. A special mention must be made of the Egyptian actor, Aida El-Kashef, who lives and breathes Aliya in the film. You may be surprised to learn later that she is not blind in real life!
Anand Gandhi used to write television soaps not too long ago. Now he directs movies like Ship Of Theseus. The Plutarchan paradox therefore applies more to him than to any of his stories! This is a movie not to be missed, especially by serious film buffs who complain that India is not capable of producing meaningful cinema. Just be prepared for the length, and small pockets of superficial philosophy, though.