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A Perfect Sum of Parts

The first thought that came to me when I heard what this film was about was ‘pretentious’. The scepticism actually began with its title,derived from a classic conundrum posited by an ancient Greek

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: July 20, 2013 4:26:46 am

Ship of Theseus

DIRECTOR: Anand Gandhi

CAST: Aida El-Kashef,Neeraj Kabi,Sohum Shah

*****1/2

The first thought that came to me when I heard what this film was about was ‘pretentious’. The scepticism actually began with its title,derived from a classic conundrum posited by an ancient Greek. An Indian film,made by a first-time filmmaker who started off writing syrupy saas-bahu serials,called Ship Of Theseus? But my fears were unfounded. Ship Of Theseus is neither pretentious nor precious. It is by far the most original,the most poignantly realised,the most thought-provoking film that I have seen in longer than I care to remember.

If you dismantle a ship,plank by plank,and reassemble it,does it remain the same ship? Like all eternal questions which have remained tantalisingly out of our leaden reach,this one too doesn’t lend itself to any easy answers. It could well be yes,no,and maybe,and that would pretty much encompass all of life. Anand Gandhi’s film takes us through three strands featuring very different lives and situations,leaving us to taste and engage. And then he brings his planks together in a heartwarming,life-affirming manner. It feels so right that there is a click. On the screen,and in your head.

A visually impaired photographer (Kashef ) goes out with her camera,and finds images which she makes her own. An ailing monk (Kabi) refuses the sort of medication that may go against his beliefs,and finds faith. And a stockbroker (Shah),nursing a sick relative,makes a long journey to a land far away in order to provide justice.

Each segment is shot as a self-contained unit. And each leads you to a place where you are left asking questions. If your eyes have failed you,does that mean you cannot really see? Or is it that physical sight can actually impede the real,insightful vision? The actress who plays this part does it with such openness and candour that you end up watching her world the way she does,filled with shadow and sound. When she does regain her faculty,does she lose her way of seeing?

Kabi is a wonderful actor who doesn’t look as if he’s acting. The monk’s illness is tangible,we can see him wasting away because he will not accept drugs that have been tested on animals. His conversations with his a little-too-chatty acolyte are a delight,raising the kind of questions so seldom heard in mainstream features. Kabi must have had to lose enormous amounts of weight to be able to show the depredation. You can literally count his ribs,and nowhere can you sense the use of prosthetics. His monk is so full of inner glow that I would willingly sell my non-existent Ferrari for him.

Like the first two,the last segment,about the young stockbroker who goes to Stockholm to unravel a mystery,goes to a place which is completely off the charts,but the route map is organically traced. His (the stockbroker’s) grandmother asks him what he can do to give back to the world he has taken from. He asks,in turn,why,if he is interested only in making money,does that make him a lesser mortal? Shah,who’s also produced the film,does a great job of excavating the feelings of a human who starts ignorant,and goes on to learn the truth.

The big reveal at the end draws the characters and the strands together in the most surprising but the most apt way. We see the parts and the whole. Once you finish,you know that there could have been no other ending. There are a few moments which feel stretched,and sometimes the wordiness distracts from the business of seeing. But these are minor niggles. There is both terror and beauty in these intertwined tales: they are deep without being heavy,captivatingly capturing Mumbai and the other landscapes.

So,was it the same ship,or not? Or is it a tentative maybe? I will leave you to decide,after you’ve seen this most unusual,most stirring film. For me,it was a fulfilling experience,a film to savour much after watching it.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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