Ankhon Dekhi and Philosophy

Ankhon Dekhi

“Medicine should be sweet, truth beautiful,and man has had this foolish habit since the days of Adam . . . though, indeed, perhaps it is all natural, and ought to be so. . . . There are many deceptions and delusions in nature that serve a purpose.” – Anton Chekhov

The simple reason why Ankhon Dekhi is a unique movie is because of its honesty. It remains true to its Old Delhi setting, true to the quirks and motivations of its characters and above all, the movie does justice to the subject which underlies every aspect of life – Philosophy. The dose of philosophy this movies provides is anything but light. There are dialogues which are not differentiable from passages from a philosophy term paper. However, in that mix there is just enough comedy and drama to keep that inevitable academic yawn at bay. By the end of the movie, I was amazed by the number of philosophical references made in the movie and I just had to list them out.

  1. The protagonist, Bauji(Sanjay Misra), decides one day to take a step back(or forward?) and look at the bigger picture in life. He sets out on a pursuit of Truth. To be precise, the movie is about him seeking his Truth, which he deftly defines as the sum of his own experiences and nothing else. The first step to do this would be do abandon any knowledge he did not gain first hand. Our very own Bauji just rephrased Socrates.

    I know one thing: that I know nothing.

  2. But Bauji goes one step further. He attacks people calling him a frog in a well(a popular phrase in Hindi for someone whose worldly knowledge is limited) by saying that he is at least aware that he is in a well and is attempting to understand his environment. Bauji is like the prisoner in Plato’s Cave who is set free. Bauji finds himself questioning universal truths and that creates tension between him and his friends and family. According to the allegory, the difference in their Truths will lead to conflict between a prisoner set free(called the Philosopher) and the laymen. “Wouldn’t they all laugh at the Philosopher and tell that his eye-sight is spoilt?” True to the parable, there is a scene in the movie where Bauji is the butt of many a joke cracked by his prisoned friends.
    Allegory of the Cave

  3. He refers to language as a “man-made construct to simplify life”/”suvidha ke liye banaya gaya ek saadhan”.  The scene where Bauji so simply states that a fruit is called a fruit only by co-incidence and for the convenience of communication, brings to mind the Symbol Grounding Problem.

    Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words (symbols) get their meanings, and hence to the problem of what meaning itself really is.

    Without going into too much detail, the symbol grounding problem raises questions like how does a robot, that only knows zeroes and ones is able to recognize apples in an image, the way we see it(and call it). The model of an apple that we have(a red fruit) and the one that a robot has(matrix of numbers) are very different. Yet they refer to the same thing in reality. This is probably one of the deepest questions ever raised in philosophy and cognition with its answer impacting fields like neuroscience, robotics and psychology.

  4. There is an argument in the movie on whether parallel lines meet at infinity. The teacher is our typical Indian middle-school teacher who says “They don’t meet at all. That is why they meet at infinity.” So do they meet or not? Or is it a paraadox? Well, in Euclidean geometry parallel lines don’t meet at infinity. However, in non-Euclidean geometry parallel lines meet at infinity. Of course this is not a topic for a more academic discussion in a movie. But its motivation is simple enough. Consider projective geometry where you draw things as you see them. In case of humans, we project our 3d world onto a 2d paper. How would a set of parallel lines appear to us? Something like this:
    Parallel train tracks meeting at the horizon

    From experience, you know these tracks are parallel. They appear to meet at some point in the horizon called the vanishing point. But would you be able to reach this point if you kept following the tracks? Certainly, not. More theory on that here.

5. This is a late addition. I missed out on the most obvious philosophical conundrum that is essentially the theme of the movie – the rationalism v/s empiricism debate.

Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. Empiricists claim that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.

The movie showcases beautifully how Bauji chooses empiricism over rationalism and ingrains that philosophy in his life to the extent that he doesn’t believe that a tiger can roar till he has listened to it himself. More on that debate, here.

(Thanks to Pratyush for pointing that out.)

But all said and done, Bauji is not a true philosopher. He touches upon very deep questions and is satisfied with being confused and curious. He does not attempt to break the shackles of his fellow prisoners mostly due to his own admission that he is still a foolish pupil and not a master. The thrill of gambling and his attachment to his family derails him from his philosophical quest. Towards the end, I felt Bauji was seeking new experiences and excitement in life under the label of “Truth”. If the movie got you thinking, you should probably read more, stand of the shoulders of giants who have thought a lot on the questions the movie raises and think some more. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy would be a good place to start. And the following is always a good thing to remember:

Supposing that Truth is a woman—what then? Is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women—that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman? – Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil.


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