Ship of Theseus: The Paradox Simplified, NO SPOILERS
Hardly would you ever come across any work of art, pure artistic magic, which would make Einstein, Gandhi and Leonardo da Vinci proud. Or Nolan, Cameron and Tarantino equally satisfied. In one instant of time. This is THAT ONE unique work of art. A solitaire grade elixir class beauty. In the league of true Hollywood art movies. Inspired by millennium old philosophies (second story) and exemplified by tens of millions of years old behavior (poster). All about the transitivity of identity. Anand Gandhi has created The Shawshank Redemption for Indian Cinema.
I don’t understand art! I mean I simply can’t. It was a ‘heavy’ decision to go for SOT. A complete art, parallel cinema, to-be-only-liked-by-critics movie. And me, a die-hard action, romance, superhero, Dabangg fan. It was to be sure hara-kiri for me. Also, I never read a review before ‘reviewing’ a movie, lest I be influenced by that critic’s viewpoints. Just the buzz and overviews are enough for me to decide to review or not to. But for the first time, in months, I had to ‘research’ on the theme of the movie to just try to understand it. Hours on Google! Beware: It is not your usual pani-puri or chaat that you pick up, lick your lips and gulp it down: it is similar to the Chappanbhog given to Lord Ganesha, the variety is so huge that you need to chew, swallow and digest it properly.
Just 12 shows in ENTIRE Mumbai !!! Kiran Rao, you are surely mocking the art appreciation ability of the Mecca of Indian Cinema. Madam, flood Mumbai and other metros with this cinema and you are sure to encourage a new breed of photographers, if not documentary makers or parallel cinema fans. And also stage a 2 day show in every Tier 2 town of India. Let them also enjoy this art magic. As for my experience, the hall I went was one-third empty. When it ended, I was waiting for more ‘action’ to happen and was shocked, but half of the people in the hall started clapping and I was like, WTF!!! For the first time in life, I really felt ashamed of my lack of knowledge of cinema, of art, of movies.
This movie is the ‘grandfather’ of Life of Pi in photography and video-shooting, whatever technical terms they use for it, WITHOUT VFX (special effects). The visuals are never-before shot uniques: so brilliant, so majestic, so engaging, that every single minute comes a scene you would wish to ‘printscreen’ and use it as a wallpaper for your computer! Excellent interplay of light and shadow. Truly metaphysical in every sense. This is the single most important aspect of the movie even if you keep the philosophical side aside.
FACTS FIRST: The movie neither has a ship nor any Greek King named Theseus and Kiran Rao is just the distributor, not the producer and has no role in the making of the movie. Theseus was the founder-king of Athens, Greece. Having slayed Minotaur, the half-man half-bull monster, got out of the much-hyped impossible Labyrinth (the famed ball-of-thread story) and overcome several obstacles, he returned from Crete to Athens to a heroic welcome. It is said that his ship was kept in the Athenian harbor as a memorial for several centuries. However, the Athenians replaced the decaying old planks of the ship with new and stronger timber as they had honored to send the ship to Delos, every year, to honor Apollo and needed the ship to be seaworthy. This started the philosophical debate whether it should be considered the SAME ship or not. Essentially, as per Greek philosopher Plutarch, the question boils down to: whether an object which has had all its components replaced, one at a time, remains fundamentally the same object or not. And if all the replaced components made another object, being replaced one by one, does the second object claim to be the original object or not. The movie tries to answer this paradox. Amazingly well. And surprisingly without using maths !
Now, apart from the literal meaning, the paradox-puzzle is showcased in the form of 3 short stories. Just as three points are necessary to form a triangle or prove collinearity (or not), these 3 stories are the three vertices, pillars and fulcrums of this movie which tries to simplify the philosophy. Whether the stories are interconnected, merge at any point or three mutually exclusive but exhaustive events is to be decided by you!
The first story is about a blind photographer (just imagine), her enthusiasm in clicking the right ‘sounding’ pics, her frustration of others not being able to ‘see’ her point and how her passion & technology helps her overcome her ‘hurdle’. The second is about a Gandhi-type monk, whose philosophy ensures he always sticks to righteousness, including believing in karma and the ‘what-you-do-is-what-you-get-funda’ and fighting cosmetic companies’ barbaric drug testing on animals. And the third is of a casual money-minded youth, who, triggered by a couple of events, tries to change the wrongdoings but realizes how intricate morality is.
ESSENCE: Is the physical aspect of everything essential or the mental aspect? Is the doer important or the intention of the one who does? What if the doer changes retaining the same intention or the doer remains same and intention changes? Is the ‘who’ and ‘what’ crucial or the ‘how’ and ‘why’? It details about the passion of your life, the celebration of being alive, overcoming handicaps, the duality of life (remember the wave and particle nature of light theory you used to hate in class 11th), the thin line between philosophy & religion, relativity, doing what you strongly believe is correct no matter what the world does to you, the meta-gyaan that every molecule in this universe is affected by every single act of yours, ‘we are made of starstuff’ type, how far will you go to make things correct again, the immortality of the soul and the fickleness of the body and most importantly, destiny, where we make it or it makes us. It’s a mini-Bhagavad Gita at times.
And what change (perhaps, for your own good) may force you to abandon your life-long ethics or confuse you into believing your earlier life was better or make you feel: I tried a lot but couldn’t get the result, did I fail? If somebody is destined to die, should his life be equally hellish or his life be peaceful though he is to butchered anyways? The movie sparks such questions and tries to make you answer them too.
The captivating visuals notwithstanding, the background sounds are mesmerizing too. Each and every moment is captured so wonderfully it justifies the years the movie took to be made. Including the scenes on the TV in the movie. And occasionally humorous too.
CAST: Aida El-Kashef, Sohum Shah, Neeraj Kabi, Vinay Shukla. New actors whom I didn’t know of. But yes, the chubby girl is quite pretty too J
POSTER EXPLAINATION: A fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, infects select types of ants, changes their smell sense, the ants fall from the trees where it lives, climbs plants, gets stuck up there and dies. Meanwhile, our smart fungus consumes its tissues, keeps exoskeleton (outside body) intact, then grows outside it and releases its spores to infect millions others. Happening since millions of years on earth !!! Proving outside ‘things’ alter the behavior of hosts for their own benefit, eventually killing the host. Similar to viruses. So when an ant is infected and behaves in such a manner, how can a human escape with millions of microbes in him? When and where do you say my body ends and environment begins? Are all not interconnected, one and the same? Brilliant questions and answers!!!
5/5 for a Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi writer to prove a millennial old paradox-philosophy relevant even now, in Mumbai, with breathtaking visuals, Bhagavad Gita gyaan and a new dimension and branding to Indian Cinema, worldwide. The movie is like Chess, slow & intellectual, SURELY NOT to be relished by all. But just because a blacksmith cannot value a diamond, we simply cannot undervalue the diamond, right? The way pawns get promoted when reached to the opposite side of the board and turn into something else, so does this movie explain the change which occurs with each one of us and is inevitable.
N.B.: Unfortunately, inspite of this long note, I am still trying to answer a few questions, trying to understand the depth of the movie and realize what more the characters had to say. The movie is such that every single frame has relevant meaning to be understood. Post this, reading other reviews is surely going to give more dimensions to my thought process 😛