One of the most engaging films of our time, Ship of Theseus is a question to the human soul. What is right or wrong? How do you measure happiness or sadness?

Once in a while, comes a man who does not even try to be part of the crowd? There are many who believe they possess certain inherent qualities that will help them be part of the masses easily.

Contemplative and densely layered, Ship of Theseus, features a trio of disparate tales wrapped around a central philosophical paradox and demands rather than invites a thinking audience. The film instills pride in you for being part of a humble but subtle audience that craves for true cinema. It shakes up the inner core of your emotions and guides you into a spiritual journey.

The film Ship of Theseus, as it happens, has got nothing to do with the old Greek kidnappers and their riveting legends, but rather, three Indian stories that grapple with the eponymous paradox. Written and directed by Anand Gandhi, who, tells a story by pushing the intellectual boundaries of its audience. What makes the film even better is that Gandhi is grounded in the reality of Indian emotions – bombastic and contrived though they may seem at times – but it occasionally flies away to unimaginable heights.

ship-of-theseus-posterIn the opening segment, Aida El-Kashef, daughter of the late Egyptian director Radwan El-Kashef and a filmmaker herself, plays Aliya; a blind photographer who relies on intuition, her camera’s inbuilt voiceover technology, her ears and input from her boyfriend to create her strong, black-and-white images. She moves through Mumbai confident and assured, snapping away by instinct, until a corneal implant restores her sight and she finds herself struggling to adjust to a new way of working. Aida stands by the say, “a director needs to be a good actor…” and the same goes for her boyfriend played Faraz Khan; both had full command of their individual characters and not for a single moment it felt like it was an artificial act that’s being performed on screen.

The second story takes you on a journey with a Jain (Maitreya) monk and tells you his philosophy of life. Played by Neeraj Kabi; the renowned theatre actor, Kabi carries the central, most affecting parable with intelligence and poise. This ascetic monk Maitreya is a staunch animal rights activist who, upon discovering he has cirrhosis of the liver, is offered a transplant and life-saving medication. But the monk, who has dedicated his life against the brutal pharmaceutical tests, carried on animals and organ transplant, refuses all help and proceeds to withdraw from the world when he discovers the medicines have been tested on animals; much to the horror of Charvaka played by Vinay Shukla, a young lawyer who chastises him for sacrificing his life for “a thought experiment.” At one stage, he is about to die when he asks for his mother. He is under tremendous fear of death and he may ask for doctor in this stage. Gandhi has brilliantly displayed the philosophical ideas through brilliant screenplay.

The third of the lot is the story of a stock broker. Naveen (Sohum Shah, shot to fame from his debut in the gangster movie Baabarr) plays the role of a hotshot Mumbai stockbroker and the recipient of a donated kidney. Learning of a man who has had his kidney stolen after going into hospital for an appendectomy, he sets off down the rabbit hole into a world of illicit organ trafficking.

Each of these well-acted, apparently disconnected stories uses sturdy characterization to form pieces of an overarching paradigm questioning the nature of self-identity and championing flexibility of beliefs.

From a technical point of view, the cinematography too communicates the intensity of the scenes especially where Aliya travels to the mountains with her newly acquired eyesight, when Maitreya is writhing in pain in his bed. DOP Pankaj Kumar infuses light and picturesque shots to portray the beauty of Mumbai in a refreshing way. Pankaj uses a desaturated palette studded with occasional flashes of breath-taking visual poetry, give us a sense of the great city as an entity unto itself, further blurring the line between individual and environment, thus leveraging the aesthetic appeal of the film, which is rarely seen otherwise in independent Indian cinema. The music further enhances this experience; music directors Benedict Taylor, Naren Chandavarkar and Rohit Sharma remind us the kind of music that the Babel and 21Grams, Oscar winning music director Gustavo Santaolalla composes. The genre is somewhat similar to that of his.

Fusing science with philosophy, Anand Gandhi with his debut feature film has shown us what very few Indian directors have: Soul. With a powerful story, art house shots and some groundbreaking performances, Gandhi and his Ship will sail a long way…perhaps to the Oscars too!

Ratings: * * * *(& half) /5

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