Director Anand Gandhi has delivered a Classical stunner in his first feature length film. The Ship of Theseus attains its critical superiority, for its intricate way of binding the problems of Identity of various types like Religion, Belief, Lifestyle, Disability to the Social-Ethical problem of Organ donation using classic philosophical problem of “Ship of Theseus”.
[The Original philosophical problem being: As the story occurs in Plutarch's Lives (Life of Theseus), A Ship by which Theseus a Semi- Mythical Hero of ancient Athens who is said to have accomplished a rescue mission, was on public display in Athens. One day all the old parts of the ships are replaced-repaired by new ones. Is the new repaired ship still the same one? In Hobbe's De Corpore the question is extended as, If all the old parts discarded combined into a ship, Is the restored ship same as the original one? ]
But its superiority comes from the fact that even with its Intellectual juggling, art of film-making never takes a back seat, whether its Acting, Cinematography, or for that matter entertaining dialogues for those who least care for its philosophical inquiry. Even though the film has three stories embedded into it the seamless switching between the stories in something commendable.
The first story is that of a visually disabled photographer, who takes pictures by sensing sounds around her. She is aided by high technology computer-camera as well as by her Boy-friend, which helps her to edit and convert them into an art form. The acting, cinematography, sequences are so natural that unless one watches it, we are disabled to imagine [For the first time when i listened to the story, At least I thought it should be some emotional drama not worthwhile to watch]. Her imagination works to her ability to get good art form, which also sometimes get her into an argument with her Boy friend, who fights over things like Black&White Vs color, over superiority of pictures, nonetheless it keeps her contended. The whole course of her life changes when she is transplanted with new eyes. Tears rolls down automatically unintended. Crossing the roads now becomes difficult in contrast to her previous life when she could have easily crossed highway, with just following the sounds. Taking photographs is not giving her joy anymore. Those visuals in one of the frame in the cinema in which she stands crippled revolving in a circle, not able to take pictures, keeps haunting the viewer. Her boy-friend who used to argue for many things slowly starts giving-in on all the matters. The second story revolves around a Jain ascetic Maitreya, who is fighting a case against Pharmaceutical companies for using the animals for the testing of their medicine. He constitutes a plethora of identities: he is an atheist, an ascetic, animal rights activist. The core of the Jain philosophy is so beautifully captured in a Bhajan sung by Maitreya. He is personally contested by a young lawyer named Charvaka who likes to argue with Maitreya on all the philosophical matters. The ascetic is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and needs a transplantation which involves taking drugs of the same companies which he is fighting and for the same reason he refuses the transplantation. Charvaka and many of his other friends try to convince him with many philosophical arguments to quote a simple one 'torturing one's body is as bad as torturing animals' . Finally he gives in. And whether he was convinced by those arguments or he gave in for the sake of life, over being an immortal after death is left to the viewer's discretion. Again the stunning visuals, philosophical-social contradictions in each frame makes viewers stick to their chairs without a wink. The third story is that of a stock broker from a revolutionist leftist family( with views contrasting those of his own) , who is obsessed with money, and is in a hospital for a kidney transplantation. Later he finds out that there is a big kidney racket and doubts that his transplanted kidney could be a stolen one from a labourer. He gets agitated. His next course of actions benefit the labourer to get an handsome amount. The scene in which the labourer compensated with the money acts very happy, could have been avoided. Probably the last story is much louder than first two and the first one is the best in which the silence speaks in most parts of the story.
The movie ends with all those who underwent transplants coming together,and they get know that all the organs were donated by the same person. Together they watch a cave exploration video, shot by the head of the NGO which had organized these transplants.
Is the director trying to depict Plato's 'allegory of cave' problem makes students of philosophy pondering, and may be, it draws them to watch the movie again.