The Spiritual Life Raft of the Ship of Theseus

Posted: July 21, 2013 by moifightclub in cinema, film, Indie, movie reviews, reviews
Tags: , ,

What’s the fun if a film doesn’t get its share of contrarian views? And with all honesty, not for the sake of it. So over to Aditya Sudarshan who ponders over the latest indie film which is the toast of the town.


(Contains plot information)

By now, Ship of Theseus is a phenomenon. From UK critics to Bollywood directors, from Dibakar Bannerjee to Karan Johar, it has been hailed as an absolute, once-in-a-blue-moon work of genius. That these opinions are honest, that the film genuinely spoke to people, is not being questioned here. The question I am asking is: Why? How? And what does this say about us- sociologically?

I say ‘sociologically’, because as art goes, I am going to argue that Ship of Theseus features a level of thought that can at best be termed ‘half-baked’, and a level of storytelling which is strictly average. And perhaps if either of these elements had been different- for better or worse- the flaws of the movie would have become indisputably clear. It’s easy to recognize that a film which has nothing to say and says it badly, is bad- take any example from mainstream Bollywood. It’s also easy to recognize ‘grand failures’- for example, Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life, grounded as it is in actually deep philosophy, shows up its failed story-telling. But deception arises when a movie has nothing particular to say and says it not too badly. In the case of SoT, this multiplication of mediocrity has passed as good- and then, wedded to the truly beautiful cinematography, has passed as genius.

Why is the thought in SoT mediocre? Because name-dropping is not the same as knowledge. Because being enamoured of philosophy is not the same as doing philosophy. In the history of human thought, the Grecian paradoxes, like Theseus’, and Zeno’s (who asked how a man could cross a room, when he must first cross half the room and before that half of the half and so on infinitely), have actually been tackled. Understanding what infinity really implies is a part of the answer. Getting to grips with ‘God’ is a part of the answer.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I am starting to engage seriously  with questions that SoT does not even seriously raise. And the key word here is seriously. If SoT had seriously put forth a vision of a Godless universe where karmic causality is the only truth (as in the lines from the monk’s chant, Naham Janami), of a world without boundaries where we are really not individuals but colonies, where there is no intrinsic right or wrong but only consequences to actions- had the movie had this power, then it would have made sense to plunge into such discussions.

The very fact that these discussions seem unwarranted and ‘too much’ here, is testimony to SoT’s half-heartedness. After all, enjoying a mantra is not the same as understanding its meaning. The mystery of free-will is not disposed off because a long-haired lawyer has read an anecdote about the behaviour of ants. Our moral sense of right and wrong is not shown to be illusory because an old woman with a broken leg has probably read ‘The Secret’.

What such scenes and dialogues do, is flatter viewers into believing they have engaged with deep and significant truths, when really they have merely gawked at them- from a very, very safe distance.

I have less to write about the story-telling, because as I said earlier, had it not been for their supposed philosophical weight, I doubt these stories would in any case have been so praised. Without doubt, the three stories in SoT all feature interesting, meaningful premises and strong performances. But the film fails to confront a single great crisis in any of them. All together, they are a bundle of beginnings. The story of the blind photographer reaches her crisis- and rests there. Why and how the monk’s faith alters, and what the alteration really means to him- is untold. And humour and stock cliches (the ‘fat sidekick’, the ‘hapless slum-dweller’) become means to escape engagement with the real moral realities of ‘do-gooding.’ When the grandmother says the line that closes the third story (prior to the epilogue)- ‘itna hi hota hai‘- she could well be talking about the whole movie. So you thought Ship of Theseus would really say something? Arre bhai- ‘itna hi hota hai‘.

I hope it will be noted here that I’m not heaping any insults whatsoever on this film. I don’t say it’s pretentious. I don’t say it’s dishonest. It is, in my opinion, almost touchingly honest- the way an adolescent enamoured of big ideas- and unequal to them- is touchingly honest. Unconsummated ideas, unconsummated stories, there are all the honest expressions of an over-awed and wonder-struck mind.

What is not ok, is for such an un-rigorous and adolescent piece of work (and ‘adolescent’ here, I emphasize, is not a pejorative, but a term of description), to pass as a mature masterpiece. This brings me to the question I started with and am also closing with, because I am going to think about it further myself. (And this is the only real food for thought SoT left me with). Why is this movie a phenomenon? Are we such suckers for beautiful cinematography? Surely not. Or are we so starved for any spiritual ideas in our lives whatsoever, that we can’t recognize cooked material from uncooked? I think perhaps this is close to the answer. Perhaps we have kept ourselves so desperately stranded from the big questions- the meaning of life, religion, morality, God- that even a child-made raft, passing by our desolation, can be hailed by us as our flag-ship.

(Aditya Sudarshan is the author of two novels, A Nice Quiet Holiday (Westland Books, 2009) and Show Me A Hero (Rupa and Co., 2011) and several plays, including The Green Room, winner of the Hindu Metroplus Playwright Award for 2011.)

  1. BB says:

    *sigh* I was hoping for a truly evolved contrarian view but this is as half baked as the movie it presumes to analyze. Just a bunch of fancy words that do not amount to much. Clearly the author did not like the movie…that is alright. Kinda sad that he then decides to write a viewpoint about it that is more confusing than the worst rambling screenplays.

    • Sagar_Y says:

      @BB : Rightly said. Absolutely agree you. “Just a bunch of fancy words that do not amount to much”

    • Divya says:

      🙂 I agree with you BB..I feel the author, perhaps, has missed the point of the movie in the sense that it is not necessary to have answers all the time….Sometimes, you don’t need all the pieces of the puzzle to fit and make perfect sense…Life is about being at peace with the missing puzzles and I think “Ship of Theseus” does that brilliantly🙂

  2. As we know, how important things are to us depends a lot on what experiences we had in our life. Today a film like SOT is getting praised, specifically in India because our cinema never spoke about such topics before. In a way Anand Gandhi shows us how deep philosophical paradoxes can be portrayed on screen. When a new cuisine is served to a person, he can only say whether he liked it or not in comparison to what he had earlier from other cuisine and this theory holds good, whatever be the context.
    In many of Anand’s interviews he mentioned his inspirations and his sources which are far away from cinema or even art. World Philosophy, Evolutionary biology and what not. Its not a film which you can identify with a genre. Anand Gandhi could have written a book or something else to put forward his ideas, which would have been easier for him but he chooses film and thus it does break some conventions, but again conventional films never talked about these stuffs. SOT is a rare piece and it should be respected for the attempt they made and how accomplished they were in putting forward their ideas on the screen.

    • Chhatrapal says:

      Going by his TED talk I think it should have been speculative biology and not evolutionary biology

      • Ramaftermath says:

        Speculative biology is the birthplace of evolutionary biology. Science, like everything, needs inspiration to take off from.

  3. Ajay Bahl says:

    The film does not offer any answers and neither (any film for that matter) is it supposed to, there is no responsibility on any art whatsoever to provide you with answers, to question yes, that SOT does quite emphatically and beautifully. Cinematography is an integral part of storytelling, why should compelling images not be appreciated? Admiration and praise is relative to what is available for comparison. Talking about a contrarian view the most interesting and cohesive observation was made by a dear friend – the point was made in the first story, then why three?

  4. duke says:

    It is definitely the lack of interesting ideas, or actual/psuedo “intellectual” engagement in our popular art which is the reason Lootera and SOT are termed masterpieces.. My biggest problem was that the movie is actually pointless after a while.. the first story was a drag, sohum and neeraj kabi’s acting and some smart one liners covered up for an idea stretched on and on.. there will always be an excuse to go back and say that comparisons are relative, there is nothing like this in India, movie was meant as a conversation starter and not something else.. what I loved about the the movie was that it holds an intelligent viewer’s attention long enough through a brilliant cinematic technique and an intriguing hook/idea. an idea whose engagement and effect may vary from person to person.. I liked it but it did not blow me away like say superman of malegaon or a movie like 21 grams which had a slightly similar theme and covered so much through three stories..
    In all the praise is almost feels SOT is a cure for cancer, you are not a film lover if you dont go and see it and blah blah blah, It is an above ordinary indie, made definitely for a festival crowd with wit and humor in the writing of one and a half stories for wider appeal, it had limited ambition and calling it things like the greatest indie movie in the history of India is actually an insult to so much interesting work done in the country till now.. Hyperbole is bad whether from the taran adarsh brigade or teh AK or DB brigade..

  5. felinei says:

    what bullshit in the name of contrarian reviewing….all flawed arguments.

    1.Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life, grounded as it is in actually deep philosophy, shows up its failed story-telling- what was the deep philosophy that u encountered in tree of life i think that movie was more like a literary piece of work something like joyce or plath recollecting their childhood through certain memories n visual images?
    Such observations remind me of this nietzsche quote :-“Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water.”

    Ship of Thesues director is articulate n has clarity of thought which generally is lacking for film makers who try films of philosophies. Not saying that what he might be saying is necessarily some kind of new eastern or western philosophy that we have to follow in life.

    2.Why is the thought in SoT mediocre- again its your view.
    Every philosophy n thought seems mediocre n great to every person differently. First of all its not a novel on eastern philosophy. its a movie which has very smartly chosen a vehicle to tell its story. a vehicle of a paradox. It never claimed that its a life changing novel that people like chetan bhagat claim to write all the time.

    3.had it not been for their supposed philosophical weight, I doubt these stories would in any case have been so praised.-
    Again i really wish sometimes the movie never claimed any ship of theseus philosophy or name. Had it been titled something else like “Immortality”, then also wat would have stood out more was the simple stories. Even kieslowski would have been proud of such simplicity in story telling.

    4.un-rigorous and adolescent piece of work – if this is an adolescent piece of work than most of bollywood crap is what prenascent pre-pubescent ? and if this is the most adolesccent work u have seen then please quote something which is mature n adult like that you have seen atleast to enlighten us.

    Somewhere else also i read a review which got it totally wrong but again its the perspective of the author.

    :- Read the last paragraph “Gandhi ends Ship of Theseus with a little video showing the interiors of a cave. All we see are glittering, crystalline rock and the shadow of a man with the camera to his eye. If you keep in mind that the Theseus paradox was put forward by the Platonist philosopher Plutarch, the first thing that comes to mind is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In The Republic, Plato likens most of human society to people imprisoned in a cave and resigned to watch shadows on the rock face, believing the ephemeral to be constant and real. The role of a philosopher is to find his way out of the cave and then try to enlighten the other prisoners. Perhaps tellingly, the man seen in the cave at the end of Ship of Theseus seems transfixed by the wall and his own shadow cast upon it. He doesn’t make his way out.”

    My interpretation of the end is the need for immortality. ever since ages we have been trying to find the holy grail and elixirs which will make us immortal.

    “Though the eerie end where the different body parts of a dead person come to see his creative cognition, is by far the best fitting end ever to such a conflicting theory of body vs mind. It gave me shivers that the persons body was still alive and its mind dead and yet the new recipients could feel in a little way what the mind tried to explore in the cave. The cave almost being a metaphor for understanding the universe by the humble mind which accepts answers to easily then pose big questions”.

    Please feel free to challenge an intelligent movie like ship of theseus, its not perfect as any philosophy or story holds true to its creator only for that age n time and even the directors own thoughts have an expiry date. But atleast when challenging it , don’t just call it half baked. First think about your own half baked stupid arguments before dropping adjectives straight from the dictionary without filtering them in your mind.

  6. pepsicoke says:

    For those interested here’s another criticism of the film

    • Anand Gandhi says:

      This, in fact, is the first decent example of a well argued criticism of the film. Thank you for pointing my attention to it. Will definitely respond to this first.

  7. Anand Gandhi says:

    Aditya, thank you for your desire in wanting to participate in this dialogue, and wanting to deconstruct the “phenomenon”. I wish you had gone ahead, and deconstructed it. You have offered me no such insight. Your piece suffers from all the shortcomings it is attempting to attribute to the film – it is rigourless, not academic or philosophical, “unconsummatted” in thought, alluding pointlessly, flatters you into believing that you are employing logic and reason, fundamentally vacuous (and none of that is an insult to your half-decent effort at forming an opinion). What is heart-warming for me is to see you dive into the heart of the discourse, surprise yourself and utter the loud disclaimer “But the film didn’t actually make me think of this.” Yours is not an informed opinion, and I choose to respond to it (and not to some other under-informed opinions), because it masquerades as one.

    Please do not mistake this response as an emotional one. I welcome this invitation for an academic discourse around the film, but I’d like you to first make a point based on empirical research, and not a “general sense of feeling”.

    That is my short response, with genuine gratitude, and further invitation. I will write a longer one, when I am sufficiently unemployed. Thank you.

    • amitabh says:

      This is not a reply to Anand Gandhi. I post here so that it will be read.SORRY.

      I think the reviewer thinks that dialogues are the only thing to drive a movie and not cinematography.

      “If SoT had seriously put forth a vision of a Godless universe where karmic causality is the only truth (as in the lines from the monk’s chant, Naham Janami), of a world without boundaries where we are really not individuals but colonies”………………..
      Did you think that he was advocating atheism ? That was the monk who was doing that.
      Yes,what the young lawyer and the monk was talking was not perfect arguments but how can you say that they were to be perfect.Their dialogues were not the soul of the movie.What the monk was doing was the soul.
      And don’t search for the meaning of life and whether god exists or not.We and that includes the director are too small to find the answers.

  8. Manish says:

    Well, First of all, let’s congratulate Anand Gandhi for making this film and making sure that it goes to the cinema halls. Hats off to you for your efforts.

    Now let’s talk about the merit of the film.

    Manish Kumar: Where did the film get it’s premiere?
    Anand Gandhi: Toronto International Film Festival.

    Manish Kumar: Which section?
    Anand Gandhi: City to City.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: We got great response, everybody loved the film. It’s the favourite film of the festival director.

    MK:. Was it part of the competition?
    AG: We won award at Mumbai Film Festival, also in Japan and Hungry.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Shekhar Kapoor and Shyam Benegal said its the best indie film to come out of india.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Karan Johar loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Amir Khan loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Ranbir Kapoor loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Dibankar Banerje and Anurag Kashyap are jealous of me.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Kiran Rao is going to present the film.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Everybody is praising the film, read all the critics. Does it matter?

    MK: So it was not the part of the competition at Toronto Film Festival?
    AG: It premiered at Toronto Film Festival.

    MK: But was it part of the competition?
    AG: It won award at Hungry.

    MK: Google says it was not part of the competition?
    AG: Is Well, First of all, let’s congratulate Anand Gandhi for making this film and making sure that it goes to the cinema halls. Hats off to you for your efforts.

    Now let’s talk about the merit of the film.

    Manish Kumar: Where did the film get it’s premiere?
    Anand Gandhi: Toronto International Film Festival.

    Manish Kumar: Which section?
    Anand Gandhi: City to City.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: We got great response, everybody loved the film. It’s the favourite film of the festival director.

    MK:. Was it part of the competition?
    AG: We won award at Mumbai Film Festival, also in Japan and Hungry.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Shekhar Kapoor and Shyam Benegal said its the best indie film to come out of india.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Karan Johar loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Amir Khan loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Ranbir Kapoor loved it.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Dibankar Banerje and Anurag Kashyap are jealous of me.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Kiran Rao is going to present the film.

    MK: Was it part of the competition?
    AG: Everybody is praising the film, read all the critics. Does it matter?

    MK: So it was not the part of the competition at Toronto Film Festival?
    AG: It premiered at Toronto Film Festival.

    MK: But was it part of the competition?
    AG: It won award at Hungry.

    MK: Google says it was not part of the competition?
    AG: Is enlightenment googleble? Watch my ted talk for the answer to above question.

    Fun apart. I don’t think Ship of Theseus deserves so much praise showered on it by the indian critics.

    It was not part of the competition at Toronto International Film Festival. It did not get selected for Cannes. It never made to any of the A grade film festival. While if you look at two other films from 2012, I.D. by Kamal Mohammad and Miss Lovely By Asim Ahuluwallia these two films beat SOT when it come to international recognition. Miss Lovely was part of Cannes and it competed. While I.D. has much better track record of going to better international film festivals and winning more awards.

    Even this year Lunchbox has rocked the international market, while SOT has not managed to sell itself in any of the international market. At least I have not read about it.

    So my question to all the people who are going ga ga about the greatness of the film is


    There is a paradox called “Ship of Irony” when an independent director makes a film against the sensibilities of Bollywood, and refuses to be part of Bollywood. And then he rides on the praise of all mainstream Bollywood celebrities to get people to cinema it’s called “Ship Of Irony”

    • hansalmehta says:

      Toronto does not have a competition. There is only an audience choice award.

    • Ajay Bahl says:

      I dont think festivals should be taken too seriously as parameters to judge a film ,there are many instances where upon watching a film one has wondered why it got screened at a so and so ‘A’ lister. With SOT I have wondered the opposite.

      Any praise that one gets as an independent filmmaker is worth riding on because the biggest responsibility of a filmmaker is to reach his work (and everyone else’s who have contributed towards it) to the maximum number of viewers possible. We don’t make films to have private DVD screenings. Anand has given SOT a good release and that is the most important thing. Most indie films have struggled on that front.

      I think SOT is superbly directed, brilliantly shot with wonderful, amazing natural performances and deserves every bit of the praise that it is getting, contrarian views are certainly welcome and even healthy but the very fact that we continue to talk about the film in itself speaks volumes about the vitality and importance of the work.

      • GoanSufi says:

        Totally agree here! Just because it has been selected for festivals alone doesn’t make it a great film. I saw Miss Lovely and didn’t like it at all. Infact, most of the crowd present at the screening (FTII Film Appreciation Course) didn’t like it.

    • Astha Rawat says:

      Now that is progressive, let us all look westward for validation if our art is “worthy enough” by virtue of festival awards.

    • Anurag kashyap says:

      Hello dumbo masquerading as Manish. There is no official competition at Toronto film festival. And many great films were not part of competition. Eg Amores Perros showed at critics week in Cannes and not in the main. Many more examples like that. Smartass

    • Mohit says:

      Fuck competition, fuck awards, fuck which celebrity endorsed or publicly appreciated the film, fuck reviews; let us know what *you* thought of it, why *you* think it doesn’t deserve the accolades. If you want to be taken seriously, that is. We are all for freedom of speech and all otherwise too.

  9. Hi Anand, It’s nice of you to respond here. I’m sorry if this piece was hurtful or displeasing to you in any personal way. Since I’m addressing you here, I want to first say congratulations, and that I think you have made an extremely sincere film with a great deal of work gone into it- which shows on screen. Nothing I said in this piece should make you think I discount or dismiss that achievement, and if it did, I really am sorry.

    But on the merits of the film, I feel I said what I had to in the piece. If my opinion felt uninformed I can’t alter that. In a nutshell, I think your film does not penetrate much into its subjects and therefore is rather light-weight overall. This is what I think and I have written the reasons why and I don’t want to dilate on them. The reason I wrote them down is because your film has created a phenomenon and is being hailed as a masterpiece, and as someone himself personally invested in both story-telling and in the themes of the film, I find this exaggerated rating intriguing and also troubling. I think it does everybody a disservice, including you, to be told you’ve made a masterpiece here (this is not your last film or the culmination of your thought and inquiry). In my opinion, your film deserves welcome and appreciation, but not the worship it’s getting. That’s really all I wanted to put across here.

    • thepuccacritic says:

      I loved the film. So why cant I worship it?
      Why do you want a deeper penetration into the subject, when only being on the surface suffices it? If it would have been done that, many of you would say it’s spoonfeeding and being pretentious.

      I see you cant make a point here very well, so better make your own film and try explaining it.

  10. duke says:

    interesting if a rather pointless debate, asking for “empirical evidence” to support a personal observation. the only empirical evidence one can gather is the number of people in the hall watching it.. everything else is actually subjective. so if somebody finds the movie superficial with ordinary story telling , that is a subjective opinion which surely cant be countered by ” e tujhe kya pata chutiye, tu film bana ke dekh”.. but i’m sure anand gandhi is ready with his next two movies “The myth of sisiphus” and “the flight of icarus” the first one about an existential dilemma of person who runs on treadmill all day but does not lose weight and the other one about a path breaking director brought down by excessive expectations due to fulsome praise..offcourse there will be multiple story lines vaguely connected to make it feel grand, complex and so innaritu and also pointless full frontal nudity to get European arthouse cred..

    • Witch says:

      what is the point of a public platform if you cannot challenge authors on their opinions… what is the need for posturing on an opinionated blog if “subjective opinion” is your sanctuary? an argument for more clarity in qualifying your opinion is somehow more temperamental than generic obsolete analogies. Ah, because constructing an original argument would mean leaving behind the banality of unimaginative literality we are so condemned to.

      • duke says:

        are you preparing for GRE

        • Witch says:

          No but your losing consciousness at anything more than disyllabic words makes me understand why the katta is a purer and safer place than the cruel world outside.

          • duke says:

            clarity of thought is not a prisoner of language.. in fact language sometime is used more to obfuscate it rather than elucidate it..and if we are talking about moving from the banal environs of unimagined literality to the vivid realms of lucid imagination without the help of mind altering substances.. the movie failed to do that for me.. might have been different for you.. off course i’m talking to a person who thinks being original and obsolete are mutually exclusive..

            • commoner says:

              oi! arrabal is playing in screen no.2, dude, and your ticket is yesterday’s. (i saw it and recommend it) i surely don’t want to smoke what you are smoking. sad fuckin trip. (i half care to ask you to define “original” and “obsolete”, but only half so.) you had the potential, but you threw it away at inarritu. your empathy for uninformed subjectivity is touching, and in that spirit, i am certain you will appreciate mine. so here it is – i think this film is unprecedented in its genius. (whistles and walks into the sunset)

  11. Mohit says:

    Very well argued, Aditya.

  12. Mohit says:

    One of my gripes with SoT was, as someone on Twitter pointed out, its oscillations between being economical and expository. The first story in SoT was a little too short and brisk for its own good, we are shown the turn of events in Aliya’s life but don’t stay with her for long enough to be on the same page with her, which is positively the case with the next two segments. The themes are merely thrown at us, we’re not made to sense them. The ideas/themes and the character in the story involving them were brusquely distant from one another and I was curiously unmoved by the photographer’s story.

    • Mohit says:

      Also, consider the exchange between Navin and his friend (whose name I can’t recall. Was it Mannu?) in the scene where they learn about the man whose kidney was stolen –

      Navin: Uska operation kab hua tha?
      Mannu: 16th ko. (pause) Tera?
      Navin: 17th. (pause) Jaa na uska blood group poochh.
      Mannu (after another round of walking up and down the stairs and acquiring information about the victim’s blood group) : Tera hi hai.

      In case you’re still wondering what I’m trying to get at, doesn’t this exchange come across as fake? Why would Mannu ask Navin about his operation date, something completely off-topic considering the context of that scene? When he comes back with the blood group info, he doesn’t merely tell Navin the blood group, he tells him that it’s the same as his. Now this is not how a real conversation would go, right? The characters don’t speak what they would naturally, they speak in such a manner that every last member of the audience, even the least attentive one, gets the point that Navin is worried that the stolen kidney might be the one he was given. Such illogical, manipulative dialogue is a rather weak way of getting the point across, a very un-cinematic one. I might come across as a bit too harsh for what is a very minor nitpicking, but in a film that’s so exquisitely crafted otherwise, such blatant spoonfeeding is rather disappointing.

  13. lissy says:

    How many of these troll comments are by Ekta Kapoor? I think ‘Ship of irony’ sounds like something she would say🙂

    Nice discussion. Great to read both sides of the argument.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Did not like the review at all.
    The reviewer thinks himself to be Stanley Kubrick.
    Praise what is genuinely praiseworthy, criticism does not finding faults unnecessarily.

  15. […] The Spiritual Life Raft of the Ship of Theseus. […]

  16. PEPSI says:

    Saw SOT today ! Dont think have seen any INDIAN movie in the near past which makes you think so much !This is a pretentious post !

  17. On Facebook one of my friend asked me what I think about this film and this was my reply. There are lot of things about which I’d like to think after second viewing but undoubtably this is my best experience in last one year including MAMI and IFFI (yes i missed this film at MAMI).

    Ship of Theseus

    ये फिल्म संपूर्ण मानवता के बारे में है जहाँ “मैं” और “हम”, “देश” और “धर्म”, “गरीब” और “आमिर” सब आपस में एक दुसरे से ऐसे जुड़े हुए हैं की ठीक- ठीक बता पाना बड़ा मुश्किल है की कौन सा हिस्सा किसका है। फिल्म तीन किरदार को बारी बारी से संबोधित करती है और कैसे बदली हुई परिस्थिति में इनका जीवन जीने का नजरिया भी बदलता है, कैसे ये अपने आस पास से खुद के होने का सही अर्थ निकाल पातें हैं और कैसे जाने-अनजाने तीनो Ship of Theseus की तरह एक दुसरे से जुड़े हुए भी है। पहली कहानी “देखना” के बारे में हैं, देखना होता क्या है, देखना क्यूँ जरूरी है और बिना आँखों के देखना या आखों से देखना दोनों में वो देख पाना कैसे संभव है। दूसरी में, मानव होने के अस्तित्व और उसके अधिकार पर प्रश्न उठाये गएँ हैं, जीवन को अलग अलग दृष्टिकोण से तर्क-वितर्क करती है और अंत में इस प्रश्न पर पहुचती है की क्या त्याग का अर्थ उससे भी ज्यादा व्यापक और सार्थक हो सकता है जो जीवन के अर्थ को ही मिटा दे। आखरी कहानी एक ऐसे युवक के बारे में हैं जिसने भौतिकतावाद की संस्कृति में कभी खुद से ज्यादा सोचा ही नहीं और कैसे एक नयी शुरुवात भी उसके लिए एक अनियंत्रित विस्तार बनकर किसी भी लक्ष्य पर नहीं पहुचती है लेकिन उसे अपनी इसी शरुवात में जीवन का लक्ष्य निहित दिख जाता है। इन तीनो की ज़िन्दगी उस एक व्यक्ति से भी जुडी है जो खुद मानव जीवन का गूढ़ अर्थ गुफाओं में ढूँढा करता था। सिनेमा के हर दृष्टिकोण से इसमें अनगिनत परत दर परत आयाम रचें गएँ हैं जो देखने वाले को मंत्रमुग्ध भी करता है और आत्ममंथन की ओर अग्रसर भी।

  18. Super! says:

    If Dev.D can be called Masterpiece in India…then anything can be a Masterpiece…now the criteria of Masterpieces of indie cinema are getting closer to our National Awards.

  19. Kubrick says:

    I was not satisfied with the movie at all. It is a good movie-but not the best to have come out of India in decades. Any regular internet junkie is aware about the “intellectual content” which Gandhi talks about through the film. I expected him to go at least a step deeper than a simple Wikipedia article.
    And, believe me or not-it is over-rated. If people like Rajkumar Hirani, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap and others have not seen anything like this before-than I think they have to see more of Cinema.
    Also, I think what Gandhi was trying to do is just present anything interesting he read over the internet and somehow try to throw it, push it and force it in the screenplay. If Kiran Rao has gone ga-ga over it, then it is because she has done something similar in Dhobi Ghat.
    And well, why were we told about Zombie fungi at all? How was it relevant to the plot? The young lawyer would discuss a book which had alphabets from the English language with a monk on his deathbed? Had they not developed a deeper relationship to talk something more sensible?
    A lot in the movie was added without any particular significance. I am not satisfied with the movie, and I really fail to understand why the hype! Is it because of the end of the movie? Wasn’t it very much predictable? Come on? Has no one watched Kieslowski’s Color Trilogy, where all the characters come together in the final movie at the same incident?
    I think, the only people who save the film are Pankaj Kumar (with his brilliant cinematography) and Neeraj Kabi (with his honest smile, perfect for a monk-what a portrayal)
    Anand Gandhi could be a genius… But Ship of Theseus is not a masterpiece. His short films were brilliant works.
    And if every frame of Ship of Theseus was replaced by a frame from Right Here, Right Now and Continuum… It would not have been the same movie! It would have been much, much better.

  20. Amit says:

    Watched it today and disappointed. May be, went in with a lot of expectation. But in any case, its an okay movie and fail to see how it could be called movie of the decade, etc. Some scenes were breathtaking, some performances were good, had a few witty conversations, but I’m afraid, that’s about it. May be the end, bringing all the 3 stories together is bringing out this reaction, but I would be surprised if that’s the case. The biggest flaw I thought was the effortless manner in which the questions of duality, existentialism, etc. were blabbered out, without blinking an eyelid. As if the characters have sorted everything out, been there, done that and waiting for the gyan to be sermonized on the unsuspecting audience.Settings were extremely realistic, but the characters were a bit difficult to digest. I mean who talks like that, even if you have monks for friends! And the movie making some people think about the questions of life and death, well.. good for them. I came out thinking what if I’d shelled out Rs. 500 for this – so, yeah, it made me think.

  21. Ramaftermath says:

    Complete intellectual complacence in the name of contrarian views, that’s what this forum is. As if it wasn’t enough for us to receive a perfectly crafted, masterfully acted, written and shot work of cinema, that a guide is now required to be able to travel down the depths of the experience – or else, we threaten to impose limitations of our insight on the work, and label it flawed! Most posts here only betray the flaws of the postwriter’s logic, and not of the film. In several of his Q and As, the director has mentioned repeatedly, that the film has a narrative layer that is only an invitation to dive deeper, and that all paradoxes and contradictions find unification on further inquiry – for example, the parts and the whole problem starts getting resolved when you really start addressing the un-replenishing neurons in the brain, and the genetic information that remains constant even through the constant replacement of cells. There is continuity in software, and transience of hardware. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because the whole is also made up of the near infinite interactions of the parts (which can also be said about the film, itself, by the way).

    The age old arguments around free will (from determinist to imcompatabilist, etc.) have found a rich splash of rejuvenation from the latest findings of evolutionary biology and neuroscience. It has become pertinent to first identify the nature of the agency exercising a choice (esp. those conflicting primitive / natural vs social environments), to be able to determine whether it has any “freedom” at all. It has also been found how the mere awareness of this problem can alter the sense of this agency, and the choices it would make. Metaphor is distilled truth, not the reality itself. Charvaka, the young, the irreverant and the “new” could not have presented a better argument than the one he does (and especially, the mention of host behavior manipulating micro-life) to challenge the very fundamentals of Maitreya’s discourse (which is based on a singular non-conflicted free willing entity), and thereby tipping him completely off balance, in a final desperate attempt to stop him from fasting to death.

    The blind photographer’s story itself opens up some of the most relevant discourses in cognitive aesthetics today, again with its hint to echolocation, the evolutionary function of beauty and neuroaesthetics – again something the director has spoken of, in his various talks. Or how about the conversation around the failure of current economic systems triggered off by the very nature of the transaction taking place in the third story? The dialogue around morality, responsibility and justice in an infinitely complex environment?

    I am amazed at how blind some of the “critics” here are to the towering cinematic achievement of this piece. Aida Elkashef, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah and others as performers, open up a new chapter in cinematic acting in world cinema (and yes, I say that even after being aware of what the Iranians and others have accomplished here.) The cinematography is completely and deeply married to the writing, not an embellishment. The film oscillates between order and chaos, between silence and noise, between design and spontaneity, between translucence and transparency, between metaphor and real, between thesis and antithesis, to constantly present synthesis of a rigorous whole. I don’t know of another film that achieves that.

    And which one of you doesn’t want cinema like this to start happening in India? The filmmakers have done their job extremely well. Let’s do ours now?

  22. Bum Bhole says:

    I still never understand how people praise it for it’s cinematography. Looks like it was shot on a handycam at times. I guess I’m spoilt by all the movies coming out these days with crisp images.

    The idea in general is brilliant. So are the performances. I wish the director spent a little more time in showing/justifying why the monk agreed to the treatment as opposed to spending about 5 minutes showing us an old lady using a bed pan. Also the second story really slowed down the film, and so couldn’t help but notice bad looking (picture quality wise) imagery.

    • PrecociousLikeU says:

      I have a one word recommendation for you – school.

      • Bum Bhole says:

        Ahh… next time these films should come with a disclaimer: Anyone who hasn’t been to school shouldn’t watch it. Or better yet, maybe some literature to the effect of explaining why some things are considered so beautiful/brilliant.

        If school teaches you to go ga ga over sub standard picture quality it’s a good thing I never went.

  23. The Ship of Thesus is about the defeatism the Indian western-educated classes feel , in affecting change in this society and in being able to understand their lives and existence , while being completely colonised in their minds by western intellectualism.

    Each story is about the ineffectualism of human existence . In realm of creatvity , of morality/ethics and of social transformation. It is the extension of the hopeless existentialism that was realised by the French intellegentsia in the 60’s.

    It was a dry film, whose discussions were sterile , which one has had hundreds of times with so-called intellectuals. It is actually about a kind of generation who is coming to terms with their mortality , who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and were mostly politically left or centre-left and atheistic/agnostic brought up on world cinema , especially European angsty one, and they felt now they will create an Indian angst .

    For me it is the fictionalised extension of the dukhimentary into cinema.

    The arrogance of the Arab blind woman who treats all her subjects as if they are there for her ,there is not one intimate conversation she has with any subject or a chai she treats anyone to . They are mostly people she can push around because of her class and equipment . On losing her ability to connect with her creative source , which she does’nt have under her control or will, she goes into a kind of nervous breakdown. She would prefer physical blindness rather than searching out the spiritual reasons for her loss of artistic vision and venture deep into her multiple infinities.

    The Jain monk, for me is actually the worst possible example of the Indian spiritual tradition . The combination of the ascetic dryness and western “rationalism” creates a monster that actually looks down on everyone. His gaze at anyone , whether the Jain monk talking to the followers asking for money (someone has to do the work of involving the community and getting funds and also use the funds for the lawyers to fight the animal rights cases !) .This monk can give only lectures on a morality without spirit, an ethics without infinity of bliss . I have nothing against his atheism , but then desiring a soul that travels forever is like saying that there is cosmic continuity without divinity , is also saying that there is a inner vital spirit that defines the universe but I will not call it God. Call it anything bhai but we agree about cross lifetime journeys , like every faith on this bhoomi . and the most illiterate on this land know all this .

    And the last one , of finding the white source of evil on this land. the famous bugbear of all social-activists . This is actually the closest sociology of the life of the section from which this absolute defeatism emerges . The poster supporting the three icons of Indian “resistance” in the grandmother’s home , the mention of human rights and the lectures on thinking for someone outside of oneself and there is one honest statement in the whole movie , where Paromita Vohra laughs in the hospital room and says ” someone has to work to pay our pensions” . This is a section of intellegentsia that has preyed on poverty and ethics by potraying themselves as the superior alternative to the “mainstream” . They will save by symbolic acts the day for humanity and a deep equality message will be spread across the seven seas . They will get a folk-performer to sing in their hospital room. Great patrons of the vanishing arts of this land . This is the example of the pathetic socialism of high-caste paternalism we have created in India . The poor stock-broker realises that the damn victim whose kidney was stolen will not fight on for his newly discovered sense of putting-the-while-exploiter-right , but just wants to live his life with his single kidney and lots of money . I have spent decades looking at how an Indian elite in power or with resources will ask the target-audiences of the “victims” and the “volunteers” to live in denial , for an higher idea of justice in the future . The poor man whose kidney has been sold , wants to live now , knowing how the judicial system runs .

    For me the movie is an example of how this section has not a clue where the society or world is going. They neither have the mitti or earth of this land, and they neither have the Euro and the Welfare state . This movie for me is closest to “siyapa” or breast-beating women do when someone dies.

    The western existential angst became out-of-fashion decades ago. The Indian “artist” carries the dead-body, trying to give it an Indian soul .

    All I can say is that they are like “trishanku”, hanging in mid-air . Neither thorough philosophy or spiritual seeking not a single insight of delight of life .
    A solar energy panel here and some wind-mills there to show we have to worry about ecology is not a subliminal revolution .

    It was a most pathetic photo-copy of European cinema of last century and I am so sad that Bollywood has so many of these creatures there trying to destroy the natural vivacity of our Hindustani cinema .

    Viva mud-mud-ke-na dhek .

  24. Namita says:

    I am inclined to agree with the author here. While the intentions behind the movie are unquestionably great, the story telling does not captivate. And hence fails to make the point it is trying to or failed to make me think.

  25. Suhrud says:


  26. Freeman says:

    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.
    Centuries later, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced a further puzzle, wondering: what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship.[3] Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?
    Thought I really liked the film. But at the risk of sounding foolish, there is one thing that I need to understand. How exactly does any of the above-mentioned statements come across in the film. For. eg. To me this film would have engaged me even if the title wasn’t SOT…
    Can any of the bigger (and kinder) brains help out?

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