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Ship of Theseus carries message about organ donation

The art-house film Ship of Theseus hopes to spread awareness about organ donation. We talk to the filmmaker Kiran Rao and her husband, the actor Aamir Khan, who have pledged to donate their organs
Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. AFP
Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. AFP

The film Ship of Theseus, India’s latest art-house sensation, aims to make the audience leave the cinema quietly resolving to sign a pledge donating all their organs.

In fact, the film’s cast, as well as the filmmaker Kiran Rao and her husband, the Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, attended a function in Mumbai last week to pledge their organs.

“We had discussed it before but after seeing Ship of Theseus, we realised that it was something we had to do – give the gift of life and use our bodies to change the life of not just one person but several,” said Rao.

The central question of Ship of Theseus derives from a question posed by Plutarch: if you replace all the decayed planks of a ship, does it remain the original ship?

It’s a paradox that many philosophers have enjoyed kicking around, but the first-time director Anand Gandhi transplants the question to the realm of organ donation.

The film, which is shot in Mumbai and boasts extraordinarily beautiful cinematography, follows the lives of three people who have received the organs of a recently deceased man. One is a blind photographer who finds that the images she took when she was blind were more powerful and spontaneous than those taken after her sight was restored; another is a monk who receives a liver transplant but only after he has tried to fast unto death, because he refuses to be treated with drugs that have been tested on animals; and a stockbroker who has received a kidney transplant, and out of guilt goes to track down the labourer whose kidney he thinks he has been given.

Advocates of organ donation are hoping that the publicity around the film and the pledge by Khan (who featured in Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in 2013) will spread awareness and encourage more Indians to donate their organs, a practice that is uncommon in India.

“Given our obsession with Bollywood stars, it makes a strong impression when they back a cause. When they say they are pledging their organs, it instantly becomes more doable for the public,” said Pallavi Kumar, the executive director for New Delhi’s Mohan Foundation, which promotes organ donation.

Khan, besides being a Bollywood A-lister, is also a social activist. Last year, he anchored a television show called Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), which tackled female foeticide, dowries, medical malpractice, honour killing and child abuse, all with tremendous effect.

Other actors aren’t far behind. The 70-year-old veteran Amitabh Bachchan, a star with tremendous pull, has campaigned for tiger conservation and appeared on television to urge parents to inoculate their children against polio.

Bachchan has also pledged to donate his organs, as have his son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya, followed by other actors such as John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra and Preity Zinta.

Last December, after the gang rape and subsequent death of a New Delhi student shocked India and the world, Bollywood stars came together to express their horror at the crime and criticise society’s attitudes towards women.

“Bollywood’s influence in India cannot be doubted: it spans social class, advertising, television, politics, news – simply everything. Every time a star utters his or her opinion, it sways minds and can boost a campaign phenomenally,” said the New Delhi-based advertising executive Abhay Gupta.

Maybe the first Indian film to deal with organ donation will trigger a change in -attitudes across the country.



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Updated: August 19, 2013 04:00 AM



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