New Delhi: Director Anand Gandhi's 'Ship of Theseus' had started making waves even when it was not released. It provoked the critics and the common movie enthusiast on its release but a doubt about the film's originality surfaced when a short film by Akram Hassan was found by some bloggers.
In Hassan's film, a visually challenged painter finds it difficult to paint after she is able to see. The protagonist then injures her eyes only to create her masterpiece. In Gandhi's film, a photographer named Aaliya (played by Aida El-Kashef) who is visually impaired, undergoes a cornea transplant that restores her vision. Post surgery, Aaliya finds it difficult to pursue her passion highlighting the paradox that with her vision back her art gets affected.
While the internet is abuzz with whether Anand Gandhi's 'Ship Of Theseus' is plagiarised, the filmmaker himself refuted the allegation and stated in his blog, "Firstly, an accusation of this kind is highly disappointing, not because of its pettiness but because of its complete incapability in gathering relevant information. It's complacent, vacuous and sensationalist and a representation of the state of faux film enthusiasm masquerading as commentary in, well, Versova."
The 32 year old director states that he took inspiration from the celebrated Swedish photographer Evgen Bavcar's story who, inspite of being visually impaired, masters her art.
Gandhi has now written a detailed post on the events and books that inspired him to come up with Aaliya's story in its current form. He writes, "In the year 2005, as Khushboo and I were making our featurette length short film Continuum, we had started developing a magical-realist, urbsurd and a plenitudinous world of a blind hockey player. There were several magical worlds and characters that surrounded her (like a jeannie, who has lost his memory, a covert activist of a hero, etc.). Like many Hungarian masters, we were aspiring to use sport as a laboratory human experiment. Only, in our case, this socio-political allegory was to trigger off a dialogue on (and marginally in favour of) social anarchism."
"The character of our story played in hockey tournaments for the visually impaired, for a team that invariably always lost. The central conceit of the plot was to follow her through a vacation, carefully avoiding central action points, only to return to the field with her - this time winning game after game for her team. The audience is invited to solve this (rather easy to decipher) enigma. What happened on the vacation? It turns out, not as a grand point of reveal, but as a completely understated easy-to-miss disclosure, that she had a cornea transplant. (One absurdly kitsch joke that Khushboo liked to crack about the character was in the form of a dialogue between her and her lover when they first meet. Tumhari aankhen bahot khoobsurat hai. Thank you, par meri nahin hain.)"
"A social phenomenon that we were attracted to was that of anonymous groups - complete strangers providing solace, understanding and advice to each other based on one common (often traumatic) experience (or malady). We made our protagonist, the blind hockey player, a participant in an anonymous group. But what could possibly be binding them? We had heard about alien abductee anonymous - fascinating, but obviously so. We thought of one thing that binds them all (won't give spoilers here) and suddenly realized that this narrative idea is a great metaphor for micro-level (cell and bacteria) replacement problem we had wanted to resolve."
Anand Gandhi further says, "Once you have a blind protagonist in your film, how do you fight the cliché of the restored eyesight? I decided I won't. So the challenge in front of me was to take up the work of Evgan Bavcar, go along with the tropes of sight restoration and post surgery conflict - use it as a narrative layer for all the questions I wanted to explore about art and the subjective experience of beauty."
"I have spoken about my references at length - about Daniel Kisch and Ben Underwood, the two visually impaired men with a highly evolved faculty of echolocation. I have spoken about the ideas of echolocation that I learnt from the work of evolutionary biologists (especially the chapter on echolocation in The Blind Watchmaker), and how I have tried trigger that dialogue through the film. I have spoken about the photographer's aspiration of condensification and the aspiration of all artists to achieve maximum content density per unit of art, and how that informs the work of the blind photographer in my film. I have spoken at length about the idea of accident vs intent, the intention of simulation and metaphor in photography (a deleted scene that was shown in an early trailer starts with a quote from Jean Baudrillard), and the possibility of arriving at an objective scale of measuring beauty, and its relation to the work of neuroaestheticists like V S Ramachandran and Semir Zeki. A small capsule of our research work with a Mumbai based blind photographer Mahesh Umrrania has been made available online."
"For the work and the process of blind photographers, we drew heavily from Pete Eckert and the Sight Unseen collective of visually impaired photographers in California (the light-painting photographs that Aliya takes in the film are inspired from Eckert's processes.)"
"And for those interested in finding more about the post-surgery readjustment problems, I recommend they have a look at my real original reference - the essay titled 'To See or Not to See' by the neurologist Oliver Sacks in his book 'An Anthropologist on Mars'."
The film is released and has been received positively, so the most appropriate way to judge the film's novelty is by watching both of them. We are giving you the link to the short film. Watch it and decide for yourself.
You can read Anand Gandhi's blog here.