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Ship of Theseus tells the stories of three people connected to the human organ trade. Courtesy Recyclewala Films
Ship of Theseus tells the stories of three people connected to the human organ trade. Courtesy Recyclewala Films

Anand Gandhi represents new generation of Indian storytellers

Ship of Theseus, the debut feature by the Indian filmmaker, is as far removed from Bollywood's song-and-dance spectacle as you can imagine.

Anand Gandhi grew up in poverty. "I was raised in the slums until I was 16," he says. "I don't come from a privileged background. I've been working since I was 14. I didn't finish my college education and most of my friends come from that background."

So it's all the more remarkable that the scruffy-haired young Mumbai resident is the director of the Indian art house movie Ship of Theseus. Gandhi entered the arts as a stage actor. He directed plays but became best known for his theatre screenplays.

"I've identified myself as a few things," he says of his eclectic past. "I'd always wanted to be a magician and an academic and study things that I cannot understand, and then to explore graphic art and motion art."

Now, though, he looks as if he has found his calling as a movie director - albeit one working within the burgeoning independent film scene in India, where directors are not interested in creating commercially successful song-and-dance spectacles of the kind synonymous with Bollywood.

Ship of Theseus, his debut film, is one of the most eagerly anticipated films at DIFF. Part of the excitement over Gandhi stems from hopes he will be India's answer to the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. As does the director of the famous films Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, Gandhi tells his story by loosely intertwining three separate narratives.

He starts with a quote from Plutarch's Life of Theseus, the 1st-century Greek work that asks whether a ship that has had all its parts restored over time - so that none of the original material remains - can still be called the same ship. Gandhi has found its modern equivalent in the human organ trade.

He presents his arguments in three tales. One is about a monk who has taken a corporation to court because it tests products on animals. When he becomes sick, the monk is faced with the dilemma of whether to accept medicine to save his own life.

Another follows a blind photographer who snaps images from her life. She has received a lot of recognition but her unique selling point is threatened when doctors discover a way to restore her sight.

The third story is of a young stockbroker who unwittingly finds himself in the trade for stolen kidneys, a journey that takes him to Scandinavia. It's a tale that posits questions about globalisation and the value of life.

Gandhi says he has taken this three-pronged approach because "no story can be told in a holistic way, without taking in many, many perspectives and people into account. Any film has its own limitations because of time constraints, so I tried to find a way to put as much into the tale as possible".

The director is preoccupied with moral dilemmas, questioning the meaning of artistic integrity as well as the global economic system, not themes that one is used to seeing in Indian cinema.

Gandhi sees his more European auteur approach to filmmaking as a result of the recent economic advancement of India. "I'm aspiring to create a dialogue and introspection which has not been prevalent in our culture up to now. For the first time in India, there is time for a generation to sit down in cafes and talk about life and that is where a lot of ideologies started. Now that some of us have our bellies full we have the advantage of dabbling in things that are about knowledge."

Ship of Theseus is screening Wednesday at 6.30pm and Saturday at 2.45pm in Mall of the Emirates. Visit www.dubaifilmfest.com for details

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