Monday, 22 July 2013

Ship Of Theseus - An Intellectually Stimulating Work Of Art

As a student of psychology, the Gestalt school of thought has taught me, “The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts because the human eye, first, sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts.” Simply put, it means that the construction of an entity is more important than the individual pieces of the entity on their own. Yesterday, I saw the movie, Ship of Theseus, which made me look at this Gestalt principle in a slightly different light.

The premise of Anand Gandhi’s film, Ship of Theseus, is the Theseus’s paradox, as contemplated by the philosopher, Plato, which argues that if you dismantle a ship, plank by plank, and then reassemble it, does it remain the same ship? Thomas Hobbes had introduced a further puzzle asking what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced and then used to build a second ship. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?

You know a movie has left a mark if you walk out of the cinema-hall and continue to think about the film even as you wake up the next morning. Ship of Theseus had that effect on me.

 Gandhi brilliantly engages the audience with the Theseus’s Paradox by drawing analogies from the lives of his protagonists. There are three stories – each featuring very different situations – yet they all come together in the same frame at the end, in a manner that is so brilliant and that makes such absolute, perfect sense that you are just left gasping with wonder.

The life of each protagonist is showcased as an autonomous component and each of their journeys leads you to a place where you are left asking questions. The story of Aaliya makes you wonder, “If you do not have eyes, does that mean you cannot really see?” or “Is there a possibility that sometimes physical sight actually hinders the real, insightful vision?”

The second story is about Maitreya, a Jain monk, who leads a fight against animal testing. When he is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, he refuses treatment because he cannot accept drugs that have been tested on animals. Attempts to convince him are denounced with intriguing arguments. This story raises questions that are seldom heard in mainstream features and, on a personal front, left me wondering about the extent and purpose of ideological rigidity.

The third story is about Navin, a stock-broker, who is constantly goaded by his maternal grandmother to contribute to society, at large, in some way or the other, instead of just going about his daily routine. He is presented with an opportunity to do this when he decides to fight for justice for a poor brick-layer, Shankar, who has been a victim of kidney-scam. At one level, this story beautifully portrays how all of us start as ignorant beings and, then, where the journey for the search of truth takes us. At another level, it makes one wonder if a human being is interested only in making money, does it really make him or her a lesser mortal being than someone who believes in sacrificing personal happiness for the greater good.
It is only in the end that you realize that the three beautiful stories of Aaliya, Maitreya and Navin are only deceivingly independent stories – in actuality, the three are all planks that form the unsinkable “Ship of Theseus”. The subtle reference to Plato's allegory of the cave, in the end, is remarkable. 

I would recommend this movie to everyone as it is indeed thought-provoking and forces you to utilize your mental faculties for some serious introspection and reflection about your notions of self, and your notions of faith, ideologies and relationships. The beauty of this film lies in the fact that it does not attempt to provide any answers to the age-old debate of the Theseus’s Paradox. Watching Ship of Theseus was quite a fulfilling experience for me and I would recommend all those who haven’t seen it to catch it as soon as possible – it might not in theatres next week – because it is a film that leaves much to savour even after you have watched it. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Leaving Crossroads

He was a silent worker who always kept to himself. His reclusive and lonesome nature was one of the many objects of interest for most of his co-workers.
She used to chatter away to glory with anybody who as much as looked in her direction. She was the life of many parties. People were mesmerized by her charms and mannerisms but she did not seem impressed by anybody.

It was a typical Monday morning for everyone at work. Almost all the people were cribbing about returning to work after having “so much fun” during the weekend. It wasn't just another day for him. It was that day of the year when he had turned a year older. As he entered office and walked towards his cubicle, not one head glanced in his direction. He was hardly a prominent figure – no one noticed his presence nor missed his absence. He sat at his desk and switched on the computer. He, suddenly, noticed a note on his bulletin-board. It simply read “Happy Birthday”. He recognized the handwriting. It was from her.
The whole day she was busy with presentations. He managed to catch hold of her at lunch-time. “Thank you,” he said. “But how did you know it was my birthday?”
She flashed her million-dollar smile, “I keep a list of everyone’s date of birth so that I don’t forget to wish them! Birthdays are important, don’t you think?”
She walked away without really waiting for a response. He watched her go, baffled by the ease and comfort with which she did things. No one would believe that this was just her first month at work.

After this incident, their interactions increased. He found that he could talk to her about anything. His evenings were no longer spent doing over-time and his weekends were never spent alone at home.
She gave up being a people’s person and settled for a small group of close-knit friends.

They were inseparable. They completed each other’s sentences. One knew what was on the other’s mind even before words were spoken. 
People talked about them. People made up stories. 
This did not bother them. If anything, it was nothing less than a source of entertainment for them!

After some time, he quit the organization to pursue what he felt was his “real calling”. She stayed on only to join him later, after some months. This move was in “their” best interest. Distance was not doing their relationship any good.  It wasn't what her heart wanted but she did not want to disappoint him. He needed her just as she needed him, she told herself.
He hated it when she used to prioritize work over spending time with him. It tore her heart to a million shreds when she found him choosing the company of other people before her. Something was amiss and it was now time to strike a compromise.
She gave up her passion to help him follow his path of dreams. She plunged herself in darkness in the hope of showing him the light.

As time passed, it became clear to her that it was all futile. He did not need her. She decided to go back to her old life. But going back isn't as simple as it seems to be. Retracing one’s steps does not mean that one manages to restore themselves back to their old selves in a complete manner. She found that she could just not force herself to be the person she used to be. She no longer craved company – she did not like having people around. They annoyed her. She immersed herself in work but her zeal had vanished. She was just not as good as she used to be at one point of time. She felt that her parts had gone rusty. Each day, she was dying a slow, painful death. She wanted to run away but she had no place to go. She did not even know who or what she was running away from. In the end, she settled for a life of mediocrity. She was with people but felt alone all the time. People are, after all, no substitute for the emptiness one feels within.
He became extremely successful in his new field and stood on top of the ladder of success. People looked up to him in awe. He had everything in life. He was content, blissfully and conveniently unaware of the damage he had caused, perhaps unintentionally, to someone who, once upon a time, was his closest friend. It was alone up there but he wasn't lonely. After all, he had always enjoyed his own company.

They had crossed paths but their destinations were different. He wanted to be like the Pole Star, the brightest star in the northern sky.
She wanted to burst like a star and dissolve like a handful of glitter into the universe to give herself back to where she came from...