Greek Philosophy and Indian Cinema are at best, an unorthodox pair. So when a movie attempts to explain a paradox as complicated as this one, you know it’s bound to leave some questions unanswered, and most people rather confused. But then again, we are never promised answers in the film, but rather an interesting take on the questions, and how they might possibly be portrayed in our day to day lives. The question in consideration is quite simple – “Does an object fundamentally REMAIN THE SAME if all it’s parts are replaced gradually until the point none of the original remain?”
Ship of Theseus uses Bombay as it’s base and explores the lives of 3 characters, in the form of snippets that show them arriving at apparent belief shattering conclusions. A blind photographer, a monk who believes in dualism and a hard working stock broker who’s the apt representative of the average nice guy. These people, played by Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah respectively, were brilliant in their roles, and despite there lacking scope to truly bring out a technically outstanding performance, couldn’t possibly have done better.
Point number one, and I don’t know if any of you thought this as well, but Kiran Rao is not the director. She’s the producer. Yeah it sounds trivial, but most of the posters etc. have her name bigger than anything else, and the real writer and director – Anand Gandhi has taken a backseat in my opinion. Which is a shame considering how good this movie actually is.
Aida El-Kashef, or Aaliya as she’s known in the movie, is a character that defines the niche upper middle class category of people living in Bombay. With the kind of determination and individuality only an artist might possess, she plays a blind photographer struggling to keep her art original. Her battle to keep intentional frames over ‘shots in the dark’ that looked better, keep her at constant loggerheads with her partner, who is also a patient fellow that simply thinks differently. When viewed with regard to her being blind, this seems like an anchor few would wish to be tied down to.
Maitreya the monk, played by Neeraj Kabi is certainly one of the most likeable character in the film. He’s got a sense of sophistication and reasoning that seems absent in most priests of today, and yet conforms to most of the traditional rituals and customs of the order. Simple shots of him waking up before the rest of the priests to fold his sheets and walking phenomenal distances in a Bombay stuck in a heavy downpour over deserted highways, define him more than anything else he says in the film. Vinay Shukla, who plays Charvaka, a law student, was also a very noticeable and boisterous character whose declarations often seemed to supersede Maitreya’s logic and beliefs. Despite many questionable arguments, the relationship between both these characters is something worth looking out for.
Finally the story of the stock broker, Navin, who is played by Sohum Shah, is nothing short of amazingly realistic. His part deals with the age old dilemma of wanting to help someone who does not wan’t it. Most Indian movies have extremely one sided character depictions and a man who loves his money is almost never shown as kind and caring. Navin breaks all stereotypes of this sort and one can see him passing through various stages of ethical choices and decisions, most of which lead to unforeseeable outcomes. There are no good or bad people in his story. Just people trying to live with whatever they can manage.
What comes out the most in the script of the movie is the intentional lack of background character exploration. It’s almost as if the director simply wanted each of the characters to be viewed only and precisely in the time frame shown in the movie. No one knows how it got there, and no one is informed about what happens next. It is what it is, and all else is left to our imagination. This creates a sense of reality that most modern day movies tend to lack.
Screenplay in the Ship of Theseus is also nothing short of mesmerising. It is made up of dull frames that are well thought out and expansive and yet quite different from the likes of vibrant movies like The Life of Pi. The lack of colour may be concerning for a few, but personally I felt it was perfect for the season it was set it. There were plenty of long and drawn out single shots that transitioned so smoothly, that one might miss a change if not looking out for it. Metaphors were strewn across the movie, and an overload of symbolism keeps one intrigued throughout the duration of the film. There is subtle design
One cannot help but be reminded of Will Smith’s 7 Pounds in more than one way, but rest assured, the movie takes a path quite different from anything else I have seen before in Indian Cinema. I thought it was one of the best India has ever produced, worthy of a pedestal when compared with other foreign masterpieces as well. Certainly, there remained room for improvement, but I’m sure this was heading bang in the correct direction.
Some will like it, some will not. One thing’s for certain though. No one will deny it was something truly different.