Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ship of Theseus

The first time I heard about it, I had no idea that ‘Ship of Theseus’ is an Indian film. I mean, look at the name. Then I was informed about it by Assem Chhabra’s column on the Toronto International Film Festival, in Pune Mirror. In the piece, Chhabra talked about the 15 Indian films showcased at the TIFF this year.

About ‘Ship of Theseus’ Assem Chhabra writes: “Last week I saw Ship of Theseus at a press screening of the Toronto International Film Festival, ahead of the film’s premiere, and I was blown away! I watched the film stunned by the power of the imagery and the three stories that the first-time director Anand Gandhi narrates, and the beautiful, heartwarming way in which he ties up the details. One can understand why the buzz was so strong. Ship of Theseus is sparse, quiet, and yet it is one of the most beautiful films made in India in the recent years. There is so much humanity and goodness in the characters that Gandhi has created. It is a rare kind of cinema that I hope will find an audience in India and abroad.
More here.

Then I saw the trailers in Youtube, and I was blown away, such is the assured mastery of the first-time director.

What attracted me to the film in the first place is the title. ‘Ship of Theseus’, also known as Theseus’ Paradox is a philosophical concept that questions the concept of authenticity, and the measure and extent of reality.

In Greek mythology, Theseus was a mighty hero who travelled from Athens to Crete in a ship to conquer the golden fleece, or something like that. Anyway, according to legend, the ship Theseus travelled in was preserved in ancient Greece much after the hero was dead. As time passed, the ship began to decay and its older, moth-eaten wooden planks were replaced by newer, sturdier ones, so much so that as time passed, everything in the ship had been replaced; while the shape and design of the ship remained the same, the material with which the original ship was build was no longer the same. Now, philosophers ask whether this ship in its current reality is the same as the original ship which Theseus used. It’s a question for which there’s no ready answer.

The Ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' paradox, or various variants, notably grandfather's axe and (in the UK) Trigger's Broom (based upon the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses) is a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its component parts 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 its wooden parts remained the same ship. The paradox had been discussed by more ancient philosophers such as Heraclitus, Socrates, and Plato prior to Plutarch's writings; and more recently by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. This problem is "a model for the philosophers"; some say "it remained the same, some saying it did not remain the same".

The paradox was first raised in Greek legend as reported by Plutarch: "The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same."

Plutarch thus questions whether the ship would remain the same if it were entirely replaced, piece by piece. 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. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?
More here.

Starting with this premise, Anand Gandhi’s film tells three distinct stories which raise several pertinent questions without easy answers.

The first story is about a blind photographer who eventually regains her vision, and in the process loses are sense of art, as she was used to visualisation with the help of other senses like sound and smell. But, the ability to see restricts these senses.

The second story is about a Jain monk who is faced with the dilemma of taking care of his health by taking medicine or adhere to his religious beliefs, which forbids killing/hurting animals. You see, all medicines use animals in some way or other.

The third story is about a stockbroker who undergoes a kidney transplant before realising that the organ was sourced illegally, or rather ‘stolen’ from someone else. Now, he must journey to find the man from whom the kidney was ‘stolen’, to understandably disastrous consequences.

I am not sure when the film is being released in India; I doubt it would find audience in theatres. What I am hoping that the film is released in DVD, and find its own discerning audience.

Anand Gandhi (born 26 September 1980 in Mumbai, India) is an independent filmmaker and screenwriter based in Mumbai. He was initially involved in parallel theatre, where he wrote and directed several critically acclaimed plays. He is also a visiting lecturer at many mass media colleges.
More here.

The director Anand Gandhi’s blog, Handbags and Lingo.

The ‘Ship of Theseus’ trailer here.

‘Ship of Theseus’ in IMDb.

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