Sarit Ray's review: Ship Of Theseus



Ship Of Theseus, no doubt, an intellectual exercise, the sort festival films often indulge in. Yet, the narrative is lucid, and the stories are simple and deeply moving.

Ship Of Theseus
Direction: Anand Gandhi
Actors: Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah, Vinay
Rating: ****

A blind photographer; an idealistic monk refusing treatment for liver cirrhosis; a stockbroker who seems to evaluate the world in profit-and-loss margins, and has just undergone a kidney transplant.

Their respective worlds are so disparate, they’d be unlikely to ever meet or cross paths.

Yet, debutant director Anand Gandhi manages to put them, well, in the same boat. “Where does the individual end and his environment begin?” the young lawyer Charwaka (Vinay Shukla) asks. Ship of Theseus explores such abstract, metaphysical ideas.

It is, no doubt, an intellectual exercise, the sort festival films often indulge in. Yet, the narrative is lucid, and the stories are simple and deeply moving.

And it’s all captured in stunning frames, as colourful and evocative as varied in range — from Mumbai’s cramped alleyways too narrow for well-fed men and their sedans, to solemn monks in white against an expansive view of the dusk along the city’s sea face.

Gandhi’s prior directorial experience is with shorts. Here, too, he tells three stories.

The first is the sharpest — that of the blind photographer Aliya Kamal (Aida El-Ashaf), who seeks moments through sound rather than sight. Her transformation — and her epiphany — is also the most ironic.

Next, we meet the monk Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), who refuses treatment, and is willing to die rather than sacrifice his ideology (he’s fighting a legal battle against pharmaceutical companies).

The third story is that of stockbroker Navin (Sohum Shah), who after being reassured that his kidney isn’t stolen from the poor man at the hospital, still takes up cudgels on his behalf.

Gandhi cleverly, if obliquely, ties the stories together through the conceit of Theseus’s Paradox — if all the parts of Theseus’s ship were replaced, was it still the same ship? And if those parts were used to build a new ship, which was the real ship of Theseus?

Cleverness, however, comes with a propensity to show off. So the dialogue is at times overwrought and unreal. At one point, a conversation between Charwaka and Maitreya is so contrived, they seem not so much individuals as on-screen mouthpieces for the director’s didacticism.

Maitreya’s story is also the most long-winded, and an ill-timed interval (added for Indian audiences’ benefit, one imagines) does it no favours.

Yet the film truly impresses, as much for its assured direction as for its ability to make you think. Ship of Theseus is perhaps too far removed from the Bollywood mainstream to make a splash at the box office.

Yet, hopefully, when its young, talented crew goes on to other ships (with star casts and bigger budgets), it’ll take a bit of Theseus with them.

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