Darkly humorous yet never bereft of asking the more serious questions about life, Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, presented by Kiran Rao, is a marvellous debut film
A lot has been said about Anand Gandhi’s film Ship of Theseus (SOT) that would discourage the average moviegoer from watching it – it is an art film, tough for ordinary people to understand, a film for festivals and not commercial theatres, without any big stars it can’t run for too long, and more. But it is not all that. Presented by Kiran Rao, Ship of Theseus is not too difficult to understand, as long as you can read the English subtitles. Also, there is a generous amount of local language and flavour to put the scenes into perspective. SOT is made up of three ridiculously simple stories that add up to a fascinating tale and lead to so many wonderful questions that are often neglected – questions that are taken for granted in a life that we choose to live, unexamined.
The first story is about a visually challenged photographer; it deals with how her gaining sight affects her art. It very cleverly conveys the idea that at times a disadvantage could prove to be the biggest strength. The second story is about a Jain monk whose philosophy and world view puts him at odds with his own survival. It tackles the age old questions of religion vs science and morality vs ethics. It also examines how a strong world view, though non-violent and making perfect sense, can cause someone to ignore so much else. The third story is about a stockbroker chasing a stolen kidney even as he realises how tricky it can be to play with morality.
The casting is spot on. All the actors have played their parts with subtlety and finesse. Aida El-Kashef as the blind Egyptian girl shows full conviction, as does Neeraj Kabi as the monk. The surprise in the movie is Sohum Shah, who has also co-produced the film. He is a kind of antithesis to so many star kids in Bollywood in the sense that he puts his money into his debut feature film not because it was a launch vehicle for him, but because the film deserved to be made. As a Rajasthani stockbroker he gets his part spot on.
The movie’s brilliance, however, lies in the questions it asks through the conversations the characters have, the dilemmas they face and how they overcome them. And the power of its images and photography shows the thought put into every frame. SOT also has one of the most authentic filmi portrayals of Mumbai in recent times.
Ship of Theseus plays out like a breath of fresh air that confirms that intelligent and meaningful cinema does exist in India. People will be drawn to it, even without any flashy marketing, because it is well worth the watch.
Reviewed by Reza Noorani
**** Very good