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. Alternately, if all the parts of the old component are used to make a new object - which is the ship of Theseus then?
As the paradox does, Anand Gandhi’s film makes you think. Not ruminate extensively, you aren’t writing an intellectual thesis (as one character says in the movie) - think loosely like playing with ideas after reading a riveting short story. And Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus is a very well written short story.
Three solid stories come together only in the last scene to perfectly embody the paradox. Three characters - headstrong and adamant about their own ‘components’, bend and change in ways they perhaps never predicted and when all comes full circle, one tends to wonder - are they still the same people?
A blind photographer, Aaliya (Adia Al-Khashef), captures stunning images playing on her instincts alone. She is bullish about what she considers good art. Even her boyfriend cannot convince her otherwise. She carries her handicap as a shield, lashing out in aggressive, illogical arguments when opposed. While she cannot wait to be able to see again, she doesn’t know what to do with her vision once it is restored. She is clearly no longer herself.
A Jain monk, Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi), busy fighting a case against animal testing realises that he has the cirrhosis of the liver. The medicines he needs to take to survive come from the very companies he is fighting against. He decides to stick to his beliefs and let his life go. But as his body fails, he can no longer hold onto his resolve. As he lies dying, a man asks him, ‘Do souls exist?’ - ‘I don’t know,’ he whispers and the unshaken resolve is washed away in the steady Mumbai rains.
Navin (Sohum Shah), a stockbroker has just received a new lease of life with a kidney transplant. At odds with his grandmother’s philosophy of life - the one where people must live for the welfare of others - Navin’s life revolves around the rising and falling figures, cheques and meetings. Till he is woken up from sleep by a wailing woman whose husband’s kidney has been stolen. Navin is faced with a dilemma, he thinks that the kidney he has received could belong to that poor labourer. In search of truth, Navin goes all the way to Stockholm to find the man who actually has the poor man’s kidney. As he rues that nothing came out of attempts, his grandmother says, ‘It was good enough.’
Though streets of Mumbai, the chawls and the traffic - Ship of Theseus comes to a sublime end. The paradox complex is complete as all three characters sit in the same room. The real questions, the real ruminations begin from that point.
The almost fragile Aaliya, the articulate Maitreya and the very regular Navin - three stories embody the legend of the real ship of Theseus and are exceedingly well crafted. The movie can surely boast of some splendid dialogues and some very real characterisations.
I wasn’t swept off my feet, but I love to think. So I thought long and well. You should too.