In this short interview with Mumbai-based filmmaker Anand Gandhi, we discuss his beautiful, thought-provoking, mind-changing, inspirational 2013 film, Ship of Theseus, titled after Plutarch’s thought experiment which asks whether a ship that has had all its parts replaced bit by bit remains the same ship after all the planks have been exchanged.
At first glance, the film is a meandering mélange of three seemingly disparate stories. The first depicts a blind experimental photographer (played by Aida El-Kashef) who, after regaining her vision thanks to a corneal transplant, mourns the loss of the unique artistic perspective she had while visually impaired. The second describes a monk and committed animal rights activist (played by Neeraj Kabi) who has spent his life fighting the use of laboratory animals and slaughterhouse practices. He struggles with an internal moral dilemma when he develops a severe illness which can only be treated with medical interventions that have been tested on animals. The final story is one of a stockbroker (played by Sohum Shah) whose activist grandmother accuses him of not caring about anyone except himself and his money. While attending to her during her brief hospitalization for an orthopedic injury, he learns of a poor man whose kidney has been stolen at the same hospital in India. He is moved to follow the trail of the kidney all the way to Sweden to confront the innocent recipient. Ultimately, all the characters are revealed to be intertwined through their common experience as organ recipients. The film is so artistically rendered one feels inspired to donate one’s organs, almost to the point of feeling impatient to do so.
Anand reveals his drive to create this film extended far beyond the simple promotion of organ donation. Through these stories he wanted to explore questions of identity, justice, beauty, nonviolence, altruism, responsibility, meaning, and death. His work is inspired by his recognition that all of life is interconnected and interdependent through our common biological, cultural, social, political, and cosmological history, and future. The movie is much more than a call to sign your donor card on the back of your driver license; it is a call for earnest efforts to find solutions to our earthly problems, and a catalyst for self-inquiry to discover where we begin and end as individual.
Ship of Theseus won many awards: Transylvania International Film Festival gave it Best Film and Best Cinematography; British Film Institute gave it the Sutherland Trophy; and 61st National Film Awards (India) gave it Best Feature Film, and to Aida El-Kashef, Best Supporting Actress, among many others.
Recyclewala Labs is the media house founded by Anand Gandhi and this film is his “icebreaker” with which he wants to embark on engaging the West in a inter-cultural dialogue. He speaks about growing up in India and consuming “huge amounts of culture from the West, especially from the USA”. With his work, he wants to turn what he views as a one way highly influential monologue into a two-way conversation. His new crowdfunded film, An Insignificant Man, currently premiering at the Toronto Film Festival through the 18th of September, 2016, follows Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of a new insurgent political party in India, the Common Man’s Party (Aam Aadmi Party), which is challenging the two major established political parties on basic public issues such as water, education, poverty, the environment, gender rights, and much more.
If you, or anyone you know has been an organ donor or recipient, I invite you to share your experiences here with all of us. Yours is also surely an inspirational story of resilience and generosity. If you have thoughts about identity, self-reflective knowledge, unity, our common history and future, generosity and sharing, the 99%, inter-cultural exchange, transnational discourse, political integrity please do share your ideas and adventures in the same here. These are concepts relevant to all of us all over world, and especially worthy of consideration as we head into the upcoming presidential election in the USA. Vote after due deliberation. Anand Gandhi’s work offers fodder to ponder these critical matters. Ship of Theseus fulfills its promise to open your mind and your heart. If you haven’t yet, sign your organ donor card, watch Ship of Theseus (available on DVD and Blu-ray by Eagle Home Entertainment), and be on the lookout for An Insignificant Man at a film festival near you.