Review of 2013 Film ‘The Ship of Theseus’, a ‘Hinglish’ Film Directed by Anand Gandhi; Starring Aida Al-Khashef Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah

Anand Gandhi.jpg

Anand Gandhi – The Man Behind Ship of Theseus

GRADE : AA / 90%

Summary: The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi.

Cast

  • Aida Elkashef as Aliya Kamal
  • Neeraj Kabi as Maitreya
  • Sohum Shah as Navin Parnam

The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. It examines the paradoxes in arguments about human beliefs, values and ideologies, exploring through the cave of space and time to find answers in the arcane light of truth. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi. It’s all the more astonishing to know that Ship of Theseus is Gandhi’s debut feature film, and wait it you hear the biggest shocker – this work comes from the same man who began the incredibly contrived ‘evil mother-in-law vs. saintly daughter-in-law’ tradition in Indian television soaps such as ‘Kyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because the mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law herself)’ and ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii (Story of Every Home)’ more than a decade ago.

This man has completed his journey, his eight-year pilgrimage at last (he conceived his idea in 2005, after making two short films ‘Right Here Right Now’ in 2003 and ‘Continuum’ in 2005) and he has found some answers, which he brings to the world in the form of Ship of Theseus. His search is probably still on, yet this film is as good as it gets.

Deconstructing the mighty body of Ship of Theseus to its bare bones would require considerable expertise (missing Mr. Ebert) and hence pardon me if my attempt falls short. There are three characters embarking on three different journeys, catalyzed by the coaxial theme of organ transplantation. The transplantation acts as the physical manifestation of the Plutarchian paradox, which questions that ‘if all the parts of a ship are replaced plank by plank and the same were used to build a new ship, then would the new ship remain the same ship as before?’.

Aliya Kamal, a visually impaired photographer whose perception of beauty and art is developed through touch and sounds in the absence of images, seeks for perfection in her pictures and often rejects photos her boyfriend finds great, leading to arguments between the couple. Her sixth sense of using sound (plus her boyfriend and the always reliable editing software) as her guide to capture delightful visual moments is threatened by her decision to go ahead with a cornea transplant to restore her eyesight. She shall realize that there’s no such thing as a ‘swan cart’, an image she had designed inside her head for God knows what.

Maitreya, the second character, is an English-speaking erudite (and atheist) monk who fights for noble causes such prevention of animal cruelty during cosmetic and medicinal testing. He journeys on foot to fast track court (which is consistently sluggish) and lets his Parsi lawyer fight on his behalf (the defense lawyer meanwhile rubbishes the case as ‘a sentimental petition’, and door to door begging for alms. When his protégé Chavarka notices him saving a centipede from being squashed under somebody’s foot and letting it go on top of a leaf, he jokes that ‘the centipede may have been trying to commit suicide and now being saved, would have find his path to nirvana’; there is constant friendly arguments between the two revolving generally around the idea of moksha or enlightenment.

Soon, it is found that Maitreya has liver cirrhosis and the ailing monk, whose staunch refusal to touch any object made at the expense of torturing animals, refuses to undergo a transplant which would also involve taking dozens of such pills. He withdraws into seclusion, and ends up punishing his own body; for someone who believes so much in karma (what goes around comes around), God knows what sin did the saint commit to suffer so much pain.

Navin, the third character, is a money-minded stockbroker who busies himself in the world of shares and stocks even when he is admitted to the hospital. Once released, he goes home where his art-loving grandmother (whom he calls ‘ajji’, which means grandmother in Marathi) scolds him for showing little interest in art and social matters. When she is admitted to the hospital after fracturing her leg, she arranges a Rajasthani musician to sing folk tunes for her and her friends inside the hospital; Navin meanwhile fidgets around, trying to find a way to escape. The two have an argument later, where Navin accuses her of being intolerant towards his attitude of living, which is to luxuriate in material comfort and yet have basic human compassion. When he learns that a poor man’s kidney was stolen a day before he got his own kidney, he fears he might have the man’s kidney and searches for the true owner. God knows what drives him all the way to Stockholm in search of the new owner.

Anand Gandhi captains his Titanic Ship along its course, and it remains totally unhampered by any stupid icebergs. The easy way to look at this movie is that it’s about organ donation, but on closer look, you’ll see the theme of ‘reconfiguration of human psyche by external forces’ shining through. The film’s structure is so massive, it’s themes so multitudinous, that you don’t feel sure at times whether you are moving in the direction the film intends you to move. My advice for those who can’t understand everything would be to leave it to God and just understand what’s easier for your mind to comprehend. Subsequent viewings will reveal further answers.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is extremely fluid, and Gandhi allows the camera to remain static over long periods of time. That’s where our actors, Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah (also the producer),  do all the excellent visual communication, bringing an emotional intensity which gives these philosophical concepts a simpler, human form of expression. There’s some powerful imagery here that draws our focus to the grand scheme of things. We begin to question ourselves then, wondering “God knows why…?”. Our journey begins.

 

Film Louvre Treasures – Singin in the Rain

Note: In ‘Treasures’, I shall review some of the films I’ve already watched. These films have in some way or the other become a part of me and my appreciation has grown for them with every watch.

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Here, I review Singin in the Rain, a Gene Kelly, Stanley Doden Film Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, R.F. Simpson, Cyd Charisse.

The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain was on television probably four years ago. I remember having called it ‘the best movie I had ever seen’. I immediately rented a DVD and watched it five times in the next two days, each time loving it all the more. I watched it with my grandmother and my nine year old cousin and they loved it too; my cousin found Gene Kelly’s dialogue ‘You reptile!’ so funny he repeats this line whenever I mention about the film. Four years have passed and I still remember the hooks of all the incredibly catchy songs. I’ve also done my service by recommending this film to anyone who may have a liking for old musicals or who is depressed in some way or the other; I wouldn’t do this usually because most musicals, old or new, have failed to blow me away the way Singin’ in the Rain has.

Finally, I got my hands on the Collector’s Edition of Singin’ in the Rain a few days ago and lent it to my cousin for some days. She saw it with her mom and said, on returning the DVD, that both enjoyed the movie immensely. This is a kind of film that can be asked to check if a person is human: a) Yes, I enjoyed Singin’ in the Rain, for confirming you belong to the human race and b) No, I didn’t enjoy Singin’ in the Rain, for sending you back to the planet you came from. So I gave this movie another watch, this time on my home-theater. Would I sing along with the same enthusiasm I had for it four years ago? I would… I would.

Even elaborate notes in my diary, which pointed the revealing mistakes I overlooked in my previous viewing, did not impact my fondness towards the film, which is so great I wanted to hug this darling film in my arms once again. Mr. Roger Ebert, while placing this film in his list of ‘Great Movies’, remarked that the ten minute spectacular Broadway Ballet sequence before the film’s climax didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the film, but also mentioned that he knew of MGM’s trend to include a lengthy song and dance piece in their earlier musicals. I

English: Portrait of Cyd Charisse from Singin'...

Cyd Charisse from Singin’ in the Rain  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

too was about to write this sequence off when it began, yet by the end I felt Broadway Ballet was the perfect moment to represent the spirit of Singin’ in The Rain. And why would I not want this sequence when it features ethereal dance goddess Cyd Charisse who’s probably the hottest thing ever for connoisseurs of women. She represents the unattainable in Hollywood, who shuns anyone incapable of satisfying her material needs, including our hero. Yet, our hero has gotta dance no matter how bad times are. He only has to keep ‘Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain!’ and life will surely get better.

Another reason why Singin’ in the Rain is so highly regarded is that we learn quite a bit about Hollywood in the late twenties, when silent films began dwindling in numbers after the influx of talking pictures. From a historical perspective, we learn about the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood which, as mentioned in the book Oxford History of World Cinema, had ‘a green bronze pagoda roof towering some ninety feet above the entrance that mimicked an oriental temple. Inside a sunburst pendant chandelier hung sixty feet above two thousand seats in a flame red auditorium with accents of jade, gold and classic antique Chinese reproductions’ (most modern multiplexes look like shanty houses in comparison). This is the place where lavish premieres were held, where entertainment reporters (since the term ‘paparazzi’ wasn’t invented until La Dolce Vita released in the sixties) waited in anticipation of celebrities who arrive one after the other in expensive cars, and where fans cheered their lungs out whenever their idols waved at them.

Cropped screenshot of Jean Hagen from the trai...

Jean Hagen as self-centered diva Lina Lamont Singin’ in the Rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, leading silent film actors, arrive at the beginning of Singin’ in the Rain to the premier of their film ‘Royal Rascal’ at the Chinese theatre. The Hollywood reporter who interviews them wants to hear how Don and Lina became the most desirable couple, and when Don starts talking about his best pal Cosmo and tries introducing him to the audience outside, (Cosmo’s standing behind the reporter, sadly ignored), the reporter taps Cosmo’s hand as though signaling him to stay out and that she only wants Don to speak about himself and Lina. And so our Royal rascal narrates the rosiest picture of his past where ‘dignity mattered’ to him the most; of course we’re able to see he’s bluffing entirely, only to satisfy the gossip-hungry tabloids. In reality, Don and Cosmo played in cheap motels and vaudevilles, sneaked into B-grade films and remained without employment too, until Don, who’s fit as a fiddle and ready for film, got a chance to work as a stunt hero in Roscoe Dexter’s movies and was offered by R.F. Simpson, producer of Monumental pictures, to act opposite leading lady Lina Lamont. Cosmo, on the other hand, provided orchestration for Dexter’s films (in those days, an orchestra would be present at the filming, playing along with the action) and remained in Don’s shadow.

The ‘love’ between Don and Lina is also entirely fictional, as everybody on the set knows that Don hates the repugnant, bossy, vain, screechy pain-in-the butt Lina, who ‘can neither sing, neither dance, neither act. Triple trouble’ (I beg to differ. Lina did seem to act well at least in her silent films); a delusional Lina meanwhile believes Don is her man only because fan magazines suggest so. Lina’s voice is so grating she’s urged by the studio to remain silent during premieres and let Don do the talking. But with the success of talkie film Jazz Singer, both Lamont and Lockwood are compelled to learn how to talk in movies for their next talking picture Duelling Cavalier, taking diction classes which make up for some of the most hilarious sequences;  poor Lina pronounces ‘can’t stand’  as ‘caaayn’t staaynd’ every single time.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

Gene Kelly and girls in Singin’ in the Rain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our hero is smitten with small time stage actress Kathy Selden, after he lands up in her car while escaping his fans. While their first meeting doesn’t really go that well (beautiful girl Kathy disparages Don’s pictures as ‘dumb shows’, while ravishing rascal Don teases her ‘pretentious loftiness’. Later, at a party, she aims a cake at him, which misses and hits Lina right in the kisser), Don nevertheless cannot forget about her and later meets and courts her, crooning the lovely number ‘You were meant for me’. When the preview of Duelling Cavalier turns out to be a disaster, Kathy and Cosmo cheer Don up with the infectiously hummable ‘Good Morning’ and suggest him to turn Dueling Cavalier into a musical, naming it ‘Dancing Cavalier’ instead. They also decide to use Kathy’s voice for Lamont, without informing the latter that her voice will be dubbed. The problem arises when narcissistic and manipulative Lena finds out their plan and threatens to sue Simpson and take over his production unless her demands are met (which is to sign a long term contract with Seldon to use her as a dubbing artist for Lamont so that she herself would never get her chance to shine).

While a couple of recent musicals with lofty ambitions and complicated cinematography (Les Miserables) haven’t exactly done well critically, Singin’ in the Rain remains everybody’s beloved for its relatively simplistic approach to make us laugh, cry, sing and dance and love. The camera either swoops in our out and its usually dissolves which transition to the next scene, and I prefer this to the jerky movements in Les Miserables. The writers don’t hesitate in letting us know what happens behind the screens, but never let the film turn into a depressing downer, an approach most directors would choose today. There’s the fake publicity tactic, sucking up and the usual envy among actors, especially the ladies; its Zelda, a cast member who looked disgruntled in an earlier scene where Simpson singles her out for her performance, who lets Lena know that Kathy’s dubbing her. Yet the music remains cheerful, upbeat and the dancing extremely lissome; Singin’ in the Rain is above all a sexy film.

Gene Kelly dancing while singing the title son...

The Crowning Achievement is the Title Song “Singin’ in the Rain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best spotlight moment in the film would be the ‘Singin in the Rain’ sequence with Gene Kelly; the song is one of the most mellifluous compositions ever written. Would I keep this song as the guiding motto throughout my life? I would… I would.