A gifted female photographer, a devout monk and a money-minded stock broker, acquire a new lease of life owing to organ transplants. The film, directed by debutante Anand Gandhi, has been screened at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012. It was also screened at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival under the 'International Competition' section. Shivom Oza reviews this film.
The film is a must-watch, not just for its 'intellectual' content or its technical finesse, but the relevance of its subject too. It raises quite a few questions on topics as diverse as – Religion, Culture, Morality, Righteousness, Social activism, the works. Director Anand Gandhi has accumulated great performances, breathtaking visuals, splendid dialogues, 'real' locations and more importantly, a fantastic subject, in one film. And this is no mean feat.
The film is divided into three stories. The first one is about a gifted photographer, Aliya (Aida El Kashef). She captures terrific visuals with her camera and can work wonders with her snaps during the editing. Rarely is she ever dissatisfied with what she's clicked. Aliya's considered an extremely special talent, not only because she is a great visualizer. Her gift lies in the fact that despite being blind, she is able to eke out a good picture purely on her sense of hearing and touch. Although blindness isn't a major handicap for her as far as photography goes, she gets a cornea transplant done anyway. Having gotten her vision back, it could be assumed that she gets even better at photography than before. However, she doesn't.
The second story is about a devout Hindu monk, Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi). He is known for championing the cause of animal rights and has been fighting a case against scientific laboratories for conducting product tests on their animals. Although he is in agreement with the fact that animals have to be butchered in order to conduct these tests/ manufacture a product, he is against their ill-treatment prior to their slaughter.
He shares his ideas about life, religion, existence and karma with a young law intern Charvaka (Vinay Shukla). Their conversations completely light up the proceedings and provide the much needed comic relief. At the same time, the ideas that they discuss are extremely thought-provoking and do get the viewer to introspect. Maitreya's problems begin when he is diagnosed with last stage liver cirrhosis. His condition requires him to take large doses of medicines every day. The dichotomy is that these medicines are manufactured by the same pharmaceutical companies that he's been fighting the animal rights case against.
According to the monk, all existence should be considered equal and not just humanity. Does he go back on his ideologies and get the treatment done or should he practice what he preaches?
The third story is about Navin (Sohum Shah), a young stock broker who has just gotten a kidney transplant done. Having been fixated to the idea of making big money, he never pays any heed to his 'social activist' grandmother's advice that he should go out, experience the real world and fight for something right. Navin comes from a different school of thought. His opinion is that going from village-to-village, distributing condoms amongst the natives is not really going to help. He means that an individual should put his/her own needs before anything else. Add a little bit of compassion, if you please, but largely it's about his/her self-interests. His dichotomy begins when he learns about a poor labourer Shankar whose kidney had been stolen in lieu of an appendicitis operation. Starting to get doubts about whether Shankar's kidney was transplanted to his body, Navin takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of the truth. His idea about life undergoes a change as well.
All the three stories put forth important ideas. The first one conveys that your disability could actually become your greatest weapon. The second one conveys that one could compromise on their 'ideals' to save their own lives. The third one portrays the psyche of an individual who knows that he's been a part of something wrong and that the wrongdoing has worked to his benefit.
At no point does the film, albeit full of interesting and thought-provoking ideas, get slow or in filmy jargon 'meditative'. The dialogues of the film really stand out, especially in the second and the third story. Gandhi has perfectly imbibed 'Mumbai' lingo into the dialogues and at the same time, given them a universal appeal. A lot of scenes, for instance, the conversations between Maitreya and Charvaka, the banter between Navin and his driver Mannu (played by Sameer Khurana), Navin's heated debate with his grandmother, among others, will evoke a lot of guffaws. And it should be noted that these scenes are not funny because they are filled with humour. It's because they talk about something that's real and relevant in today's society. It's the contradictions and the sarcasm that you will find funny.
The story, in itself, is a work of genius. Debutante Anand Gandhi has had the courage to come up with these issues, which are not much-talked-about, and has tackled them with élan. Another interesting aspect about the film is that it does not put forth rights and wrongs. You will find grey areas in every story and there is no 'convenient' closure provided.
There are times when you feel that the second story does slow down a bit. Despite having such well-written scenes, too much attention is paid to the visuals. You can't help but feel that the monk's story does overstay its welcome. This was the one and only flaw that you could possibly find in this masterpiece.
The finale of the film escalates it to a completely different level. It is a moment when all the pieces are put together and you start making sense of the rather philosophical quote that they use at the beginning of the film, "If the parts of a ship are replaced, bit-by-bit, is it still the same ship?"
The principal cast has delivered wonderful performances. It is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the three leads apart from Aida, Neeraj and Sohum.
The visuals have been superbly captured by Pankaj Kumar. The editor-quartet Adesh Prasad, Sanyukta Kaza, Satchit Puranik and Reka Lemhenyi have worked wonders with the film. Anand Gandhi has given India its 'international film' of the year.
This film could redefine 'independent cinema' in India. It is not a deep film. You do not need to be an 'art-film' admirer to like Ship Of Theseus. If you do not agree with the ideologies conveyed through the film, you could take back the breath-taking visuals and the sparkling dialogue. There's something in it for everyone. A must, must watch!