It has been a while since the audience stood and clapped for a film at a regular show, moved so intensely by the content, and immersed so fully into the characters’ lives that their stories did not seem distanced by the screen. They might just as well have been actors on stage, coming back for the curtain call, having discarded their roles. In a manner of speaking, the three main characters in the film have changed, have taken on new roles. But the audience was not clapping from politeness. Everyone was moved. Everyone had laughed. Everyone had welled up. Everyone had been them. Ship of Theseus poses a basic question at the start. If a ship, like the legendary one it draws its name from, were to break, and be rebuilt using other blocks of wood, would it be the same ship? And if the broken fragments were to be reassembled into another ship, which would be the real Ship of Theseus? This concept is used in three different stories, to explore the idea of soul and the far more pragmatic issue of organ donation. Incredibly, the film never gets preachy. It sails along gently, calling us in with its silences and its music, charming us with the ordinariness of its characters and the ridiculous loftiness of their concerns, their alienation from the people who want to persuade them to do what’s best for them.
In the first story, Aliya (Aida El-Kashef), an Egyptian girl in Mumbai, takes photographs and processes them with the help of voice sensors – she is blind. But that is no limitation to her. She knows what she wants. She feels the textures of her images, hears them described by her boyfriend, and fumes when he does anything with them that she hasn’t asked him to.
Does she have to control everything, he wants to know. She believes she does. And the rationale for this comes to us in disjointed fragments, stray sentences from a fight the two are having. If she were to regain the sight she lost to corneal infection, what would she lose?
In the second, Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), a new-age Gandhi-of-sorts, is on a mission. He wants to stop laboratory tests on animals, at least for cosmetics and eventually for medicines. And in the meanwhile, he wants the conditions they live in to be improved. He has converted his meat-eating lawyer. He has found an urban chela (Vinay Shukla). But, cruelly, the limits of his struggle will be tested. How far is he willing to go, if he has to choose between his fight and himself? He is a romantic figure, walking everywhere he goes, begging for every morsel he eats, extolling humility and patience, preaching the absence of God and the predominance of the soul. But will he choose a romantic end?
In the third strand of the story, successful stockbroker Navin (Sohum Shah) rages against his grandmother, who believes he is driven only by money, and must make something of himself. “When the freedom struggle was on, you left my mother alone and went from village to village, asking people to wear condoms!” he yells, “If your work was so successful, if it mattered so much, where did these billion people come from?” A chance encounter drives him to make a long journey, and find out whether his point was actually more valid than his grandmother’s. Would it make him happier if it weren’t?
These three parts have tenuous links – a caterpillar, a hospital bed, a devoted friend. The fact that they come together so organically and leave us with niggling questions is a superb achievement of filmmaking.
The Verdict: A beautifully crafted film that should not be missed.