It’s interesting how Anand Gandhi returns to an ancient paradox which has preoccupied the some of the greatest philosophers of the world, from Socrates and Plato to Hobbes and Locke, and several others. It is indeed one of the most confounding paradoxes of philosophy. The paradox seems to have originated from Plutarch’s Life of Theseus: Theseus’s ship, which was preserved for ages, was falling apart and a revamp seemed absolutely necessary. Consequently, all the old, decaying planks that made up the ship were discarded to be replaced by stronger timber planks. The paradoxical question which this renovated ship invited is whether it was still the same ship or was it a new ship altogether. Gandhi’s film begins with the same question, but it is not until the end that the full force of this analogy is realized.
The problem of writing the review of Ship of Theseus is that it is difficult to be profound without elucidating the analogy between the legend of Theseus’ ship and Gandhi’s film, yet such explanation would take away from the reader, who has not yet watched the film, the thrill of seating till the end to discover the connection. All I can say is that the sheer intensity of the paradox is felt in every single frame of the film, which is unapologetically experimental in its narrative technique and use of frames. Every single frame has a feeling of ‘unfinishedness’ to it which jolts the viewer but sucks her up into it with the temptation to get to the resolution of the paradox. But, the paradox remains unresolved till the end. For, Gandhi and his co-writers, Khushboo Ranka and Pankaj Kumar, obviously had no intention of finding an answer to the question raised at the outset; rather, they wanted to delve deep into the paradox which defines our everyday life. While each of the stories addresses a paradox specific to an individual, in the end, they seamlessly flow into each other, to address a larger unsettling paradox. In the end it raises perhaps one of the trickiest questions of the post-humanist era when very many old beliefs have been completely shattered.
Aaliya Kamal (Aida El-Kashef), Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), and Navin (Sohum Shah) are the three protagonists of three apparently disjointed stories that form the narrative. The connection amongst the three stories is not difficult to tell as you watch it, for it is so-in-your-face, but the thrill is, you tend to miss the connection, if you are not too alert. It’s quite probable that when the connection is revealed to you, you might fondly smile at your own inattentiveness. The three stories have in them three very confounding paradoxes, as mentioned above: Aaliya who captures brilliant frames in a state of blindness finds that she can no longer capture such superlative frames on regaining her vision. Maitreya, a scholarly monk, is faced with a terrible dilemma when he is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis; for, by taking allopathic medicines, he cannot possibly betray his own mission of stopping violence done to animals at medical laboratories. Navin is drawn into an altruistic but apparently ridiculous mission of returning to the donor his kidney, which was stolen from him during a minor surgery in a seedy hospital. These micro-paradoxes of each of the stories are subsumed within a macro-paradox that connects these three individuals who are totally unrelated. What is this macro-paradox? The same paradox associated with the rejuvenation of Theseus’ ship. Sounds difficult? Well, it isn’t. You have to watch the film to realize the intriguing simplicity of it all. For instance, Charvaka (Vinay Shukla), a central character in the second story, with his seemingly naïve and funny questions, complicates the philosophy of karma, which however, is simplified by Navin’s erudite grandmother who appreciates her grandson’s ‘action’ which has apparently failed by the simple elucidation: Itna hi hota hai! Ship of Theseus is indeed complex but so endearingly simple also.
Poetic in appeal, Ship of Theseus also offers some outstanding performances from the actors who are not so well-known faces. Casting director Arushi Nayar has done a commendable job. The director of photography (who has also contributed to the script), Pankaj Kumar has experimented with the shots remarkably. I would particularly mention the close-up shots of Maitreya’s ailing body which help articulate the indescribable agony he goes through. Lastly, kudos to Sohum Shah for producing this film, and thanks to Kiran Rao for taking the responsibility of distributing it nationwide. However, the film deserves to be more widely released. Its sheer poetry should reach more people.
Watch the official trailer, here: