The Ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’s paradox, is a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late 1st century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing all and every of its wooden parts, remained the same ship.
I haven’t written a single review since Man of Steel, partially because of the monsoon. In the heavy rains accompanied by the cold weather, it’s too difficult for a lazy person like me to go out of the house, even for a cinema. But Ship of Theseus is the movie that has broken my laziness, I went all the up to Juhu from Ambarnath, just to watch it (It’s only released in select theaters).
Ship of Theseus, written and directed by Anand Gandhi, the writer of the long-time Indian soap, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, requires patience, an open mind, and a willingness to think. It’s not enough to simply sit there in your seat and ‘watch’ the film, but to listen attentively to its characters and consider their arguments. If you’re willing to make that investment, you’ll be rewarded with a richly emotional, intellectual, and corporeal experience.
The film follows three separate stories that raise pertinent questions about identity, death, and morality. In the first, we’re introduced to Aliya (Aida El-Kashef), a blind photographer who uses intuition to capture brilliant black-and-white images. A cornea transplant restores her vision, but she fears she may have lost her inspiration. In the second and most affecting story, we meet Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), a Jain monk and staunch animal-rights activist, who is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and must consider a transplant. On discovering that the medication that could save his life might have been tested on animals, he refuses treatment. The third story is centered on Naveen (Sohum Shah), a stockbroker and the recent recipient of a donated kidney. He becomes obsessed with bringing justice to a poor man he meets, whose kidney was illegally stolen during an appendix surgery.
These three strands interconnect satisfyingly in a moving climax, and tie in neatly with the principal philosophical idea thrown up by the film’s title: Does a ship, whose every part has been replaced piece by piece, remain the same ship in the end? Gandhi applies this paradox skillfully to the human body, asking if a person who has had an organ transplant is still the same person he previously was.
Giving us a nice lived-in feel of each of their worlds, Gandhi takes us inside the minds of our three protagonists, showing us what they stand for, and how they’ve changed over the course of the journey they undertake during the film. Each of our protagonists engages in intelligent, thought-provoking arguments, and it’s hard not to come away deeply affected by some of the issues raised. The verbal sparring between the monk and a young lawyer-in-training is particularly engaging, and full of insightful gems worth considering.
Languidly paced and lushly filmed, Ship of Theseus is just as rich cinematically, and benefits from great performances by each of the three protagonists, particularly Kabi whose physical transformation as the ailing monk is a sight to behold. Gandhi gives us a fine supporting cast too that occasionally imbues humor in a film that otherwise stings from its brutal honesty.
I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five for Ship of Theseus. It stimulates the one organ that popular Bollywood cinema unfailingly ignores – the brain! Give it a chance, even if it’s not running at your nearest theater, and prepare to be dazzled.