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Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Based on Plutarch’s paradox of whether a ship whose parts have been changed can be considered to be the same ship as it was before, the film, Ship of Theseus, by Anand Gandhi, explores this issue through three lives and their stories come together in the end for these people have received their new parts through one donor, a hobbyist cave explorer whose film they come to see at a private screening and where they meet each other as separate individuals united by the fact that each of them has a part of one man, now a part of them.

The first story is of a young Egyptian blind photographer, Aliya Kamal, who takes black and white photographs which have a unique unexplained element to them. Her work is gaining popularity. In an interview, she says that she has no set limits or boundaries in what she wants to do, and so on the surface one finds her to be comfortable in her blindness. At the same time she has an argument with her boyfriend where she wishes to destroy anything that happens ‘accidentally’, any photograph over which she has ‘no control’. So she is grappling with the fact that her blindness happened accidentally and she could not control that aspect of her life and this reflects in her behavior.

However, she gets a cornea transplant that restores her eyesight. She is now back in the world of being able to see. The return of her vision makes her lose her photographic vision. She finds that her work has lost that special something which her blindness had gifted her. She is overwhelmed by the sights that surround her.

The second story is of a monk called Maitreya who is an animal rights activist and when threatened with liver cirrhosis, chooses to die slowly rather than take treatment, since the drugs have all been cleared and manufactured after being tested on animals. There are interesting questions posed in this segment through the dialogues between Maitreya and Charvaka ( a young follower and admirer) on life, death, existence, humanity, permanence and impermanence etc. The heaviness of the matter under discussion is lightened by the jokes cracked by Charvaka as they talk. When Maitreya is diagnosed with cirrhosis, despite everyone’s attempts to make him change his mind, he is shown choosing the path of hunger and fasting to death. It is only at the last moment that he changes his mind and asks his attendant monk to call for the doctor. Thus we see that the love for one’s life and mortal flesh puts paid to all idealism and heroic endeavours and the quest for immortality, despite Maitreya trying very hard to adhere to what he stands for.

The last story is of Navin, a stockbroker, who justifies to his grandmother the fact that his interest in making money and what she calls his ‘limited world’, is not to be scoffed at. During his stay at the hospital to take care of his grandmother who has had an accident and broken her leg, he hears a woman wailing and discovers that a common bricklayer’s kidney has been removed while he underwent an appendicitis operation. At first, since he has had a kidney transplant, he believes that he has the bricklayer Shankar’s kidney, but his fears are put to rest.

His investigations lead him to a person in Stockholm who has received Shankar’s ‘stolen’ kidney. The man agrees to arrange for a new kidney for Shankar and take care of everything, but Navin finds that instead of this, the foreigner sends six and a half lakhs as payment to Shankar. Shankar is ecstatic, and refuses to listen to Navin’s attempts to tell him that he can get his kidney back. Navin’s grandmother tells him that it is enough that he has tried to make a difference to someone else’s life. The dismal life that poverty brings is shown without any filters as Navin and his friend climb narrow, slippery, filth covered staircase after another to try and reach the place that Shankar calls home ). The film exposes without deceit the behavior of Indians and the Indian set up, the way the nurses are unhelpful and unavailable even in the best of hospitals, the way Navin’s friend wipes his sweaty face on a cloth hung out for washing. the wiping of Navins hands on his pants after he has washed them; these little touches add to the film’s authenticity.

Though the scenes move slowly and sometimes drag (e.g. the speaking of the Stockholm man in his own language and then the translation by Ajay, the stockbroker Navin’s friend), the film shows how the trafficking in organs is a matter of grave concern today, and also how losing or getting and organ has repercussions both for the giver and the receiver. The photography is often breath-taking. The actors have been well chosen. Naveen Kabi is fantastic in his role. So is Suhel Shah, who plays his role as a young stockbroker with elan. Since the language is often Hinglish, and in the first story and in the last story, some spoken parts are neither English nor Hindi, it is good that the movie is sub- titled.


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