Kiran’s Theseus Crusade

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By Team Ship Of Theseus — Presenter Kiran Rao And Director Anand Gandhi — On The Indie Film Of The Year
  • Published 10.07.13

This is my para… oh, how I love saying the word ‘para’!” exclaimed Kiran Rao. Looking cool and chic in checked trousers and a cotton top, Aamir Khan’s wife reminisced about her Calcutta days. “I lived on Hungerford Street and all my friends were from around the Park Street area,” smiled the Loreto House girl. In town to promote indie film Ship of Theseus — whose release she is backing — Kiran and director Anand Gandhi spoke to t2 about the July 19 release that has created waves on the festival circuit.

Kiran, what is it about Ship of Theseus that made you want to be a part of this film?

Kiran Rao: I was completely spellbound by the film! It represents a complete filmmaking and film-watching experience. It’s visually beautiful and has got such layered storytelling. When I was watching the film, I could think of nothing else really. I was amazed that I was watching a film like this in India made by a city filmmaker, sitting in Bombay. I was just so happy that a film like this had been made in this country.

How does your coming on board help Ship of Theseus?

Kiran: In the beginning, I was sceptical whether my presence would help or not. But the idea was to create a bridge between the audience and the work of a new film-maker. I have some credibility and that I thought would help me in reaching out. The audience also knows that I wouldn’t endorse a film that didn’t deserve it. The idea was just to leverage whatever goodwill I have to try and get an audience for Ship of Theseus.

Anand, what was your reaction when Kiran said she wanted to put her weight behind your film?

Anand: I was ecstatic! At that time, I had no idea that she would actually be working on the film on a daily basis, morning to night! (Laughs) I had never imagined that she would leave everything else she had and just work tirelessly to make sure that the film reaches out.

The film is based on the Theseus Paradox and also contains a host of literary and cultural allusions to explore identity, justice, beauty, meaning and death. Is it an easy film to comprehend?

Anand: I would like to believe it is (smiles). Even if there are many allusions and references, the narrative is very clean. The idea of the film evolved over a period of time. There were a lot of ideas I was fascinated by. I realised that a few of them had this sense of continuum that could be bound together in one film.

Kiran: While it’s rich in allusions and metaphors, the narrative core is very simple. All the three stories (of a blind girl, a monk and a stockbroker) are extremely compelling. Even if the audience just enjoys the three stories without going into the underlying meaning, we will be satisfied.

Most people think that the average Indian viewer won’t understand a film of this genre. Do you feel we underestimate our audience?

Anand: Oh yes, absolutely! I think it’s so arrogant and short-sighted to assume something like that. Indian audiences have not been given enough material of this kind for such presumptuous judgement to be passed. If such films had been made on a regular basis and our audience had rejected them periodically, then that judgement would have been valid. But not now.

Kiran: This kind of cinema predominantly works on word-of-mouth and needs time to grow in theatres. So we are hoping that theatres will support us and keep the film for a few weeks so the viewer has a chance to see it.

But is there a specific kind of audience that will enjoy this film more than the rest?

Anand: That’s a question I struggle with all the time. I have categorised my viewer into three. First is the viewer who hardly consumes Indian culture and has completely migrated to world culture and films. This is the guy who knows about Ship of Theseus and has been waiting for it to release. The second category belongs to the consumer who largely thrives on Indian films and TV, but has had glimpses of material from across the world. And the third viewer hasn’t had any exposure to world cinema, but is receptive to it. I think that even the third category is my viewer because even he needs to be catered. Till the time I was 17, I had just watched American films. One day, I happened to watch an Iranian film and it just blew my mind. I cursed myself that I had been deprived of such culture for so many years of my life.

How do we need to promote indie films? Will it only just happen if a Kiran Rao lends her name to it?

Kiran: First, we need to make more films like Ship of Theseus. All small-budget films are not necessarily good films. We have to start making better films and when that’s done, we have to market it in the way that suits the film best. I don’t think there’s a sure-shot way to market a film. To be honest, I am not in favour of overselling a film… the kind of travelling circus that happens today where you bombard the audience with promotions for your film. Also, I don’t know whether there will be very many films like this about which I will feel so strongly.

Why have you promoted Ship of Theseus exclusively online?

Kiran: It’s a very small film and we didn’t want to burden it with a big marketing budget. Plus, we wanted to reach out to our audience through the medium they use best — and that’s the digital and social networking platform. Today, people are much more informed through the Internet than they are through newspapers or TV and that’s something we wanted to leverage. We carried out an online poll asking people to vote if they wanted to see the film in their city theatres. We have shortlisted about 15 cities and Calcutta, of course, figures on the list.

Did you take any marketing tips from Aamir?

Kiran: Yes, we did have some initial discussions with him, but he’s been busy after that. We’ve shown him our poster and our trailer and he’s been very generous with his opinion and suggestions as always (smiles).

But you’ve said that if Aamir had been a part of the promotions for this film, he would have done it more harm than good…

Kiran: Well, I didn’t really say it that way (smiles). I did say that Aamir has an audience that’s very loyal and they expect a certain kind of film from him. He’s a star who comes with certain expectations and I felt that Aamir’s large persona wouldn’t really suit this kind of a film. Ship of Theseus is a unique film that needs to chisel out its own identity.

Anand, you started out as the writer of soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. Many would be quick to disown that kind of work, but did that contribute to the writer in you?

Anand: I was 19 at that time and I was earning good money and I was happy. The cynicism had yet to set in (smiles). I was also writing plays at that time that are similar in vein to Ship of Theseus. I enjoyed writing for those soaps while it lasted, but I never wanted to go back again.

Kiran, Dhobi Ghat was in 2010. When do we see you in the director’s chair again?

Kiran: It’s been a long time. I am at the writing table now. I have been thinking of a lot of ideas and hopefully, there will be something to talk about soon.

Is Azad taking kindly to his mother getting back to work gradually?

Kiran: I crept out this morning when he was asleep, otherwise he wouldn’t have let me leave (smiles). I am lucky to have a good support system that takes care of him in my absence. Azad’s also very close to Aamir, but Aamir is very busy nowadays and isn’t able to give Azad as much time as he would like to. But he’s a wonderful dad.


Based on the Theseus Paradox, Ship of Theseus explores life and its meaning through the stories of a blind photographer, an ailing monk and a stockbroker who has just undergone a kidney transplant. The Theseus Paradox asks whether an object that has had all its components replaced still remains the same object or not and that idea forms the core of the film. Starring Aida Elkashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah, Ship of Theseus premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival where it was touted as “the hidden gem of the year”. Since then, it has garnered critical acclaim in major festivals worldwide.

Priyanka Roy

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