A young girl loses her eyesight and turns to photography. A monk fighting a case for animal rights would rather die of liver cirhosis than take medicines which are animal tested. A stock broker discovers his kidney donor had his own kidney stolen during an appendix operation. Three different people, three different lives, each obsessively pursuing a belief and one connection unknown to them. Ship of Theseus explores slowly, gently, humorously and seamlessly quintessential life philosophies and the paradox of Theseus through these people.
Written and directed by Anand Gandhi, his first film is deservedly a winner of MAMI organized MFF jury award for technical excellence. It is a film that has its merit in the eye for detail in both script and choice of locations, capturing long vivid images of something as simple as a long walk down a bridge on a rainy night or a centipede struggling its way out of giant shoes treading by or several monks trudging bare feet on dry, hot, stony pathways with windmills towering all over.
Every story(written by Anand Gandhi, Pankaj Kumar, Khushboo Ranka) is an experiment by itself in solitary or quiet moments. The camera follows every protagonist so closely that before one knows it, one is a part of their everyday life, however disturbing or uncomfortable.
Sample some long quiet sequences from each: The first story has Aliya (Aida El Kashef)who challenges herself by taking up photography after losing her eyesight and is later seen dealing with her loss of intuitive insight after she regains sight; sitting blindfold in the dark post her successful eye operation. The monk,Maitrya’s (Niraj Kabi,outstanding) story has a long silent sequence where the stark whiteness of his dhoti is marred by yellow bowel stains one night when he wakes up in a severe ailing state of near death. The stockbroker, Navin’s (Sohum Shah) story has him in a silent shot, washing a bed pan, helping his bedridden grandmother pee into it and washing the pan again.
Besides dead serious moments like these are simple conversations that bring out tragic-comic humour and irony. As the monk lies in bed, fighting to breathe, one of his followers comes to touch his feet, desperately seeking answers to the perpetual age old question, ”maharaj, aatma hai ki nahin?”The monk replies simply, ”pata nahin.”
Several more everyday conversations and hilarious location choices that bring out the irony of life ever so casually. When Navin (fabulous, natural performance by Sohum Shah)considers the possibility of his own kidney stolen from a poor patient, Shankar. He feels responsible for the robbery. He drives down to the slums with his friend to find Shankar. They reach a narrow lane where it’s impossible to take the car any further. They walk into the lane which gets narrower, small rooms on both sides. Asking for directions to Shankar’s house, they climb several steps and shaky ladders and eventually even find the lanes narrowing down to walls on each side with just enough space to squeeze in sideways . Navin’s overweight friend constantly gets stuck and exasperatedly cries, ”kahan phas gaya?” The absurdity, cruelty of the situation of stolen kidney, the pathetic plight of poor slum dwellers, the new found compassion and mission of humanity all come together in the characters and situation through sheer use of fantastic real dialogues, location and cinematographer , Pankaj Kumar’s camera work.
Many more scenes like these in all three stories coming together in a wonderful climax sequence, make Anand Gandhi’s debut, Ship of Theseus , a really special cinematic treat and experiment to enjoy. As for the Theseus’ paradox which raises the question if an object which has all its parts replaced, remains the same object; this film just might have a delightful answer.