IT WAS THE END OF 2009 and Anand Gandhi, after finishing the script of his film Ship of Theseus, had begun pre-production work on it. Among those who had joined his production team was the young Egyptian filmmaker Aida El-Kashef, who had met Gandhi two years earlier at the Hannover Film Festival in Germany, where both were screening films. El-Kashef, then 17, expressed an interest in working with Gandhi in the future and, as Gandhi recounted, in 2009, she “came to India on a semi-casual trip, and started helping around.”
El-Kashef’s intention had been to work behind the scenes. But while helping out with a screen test for a male actor to play a supporting role in the film’s first segment, about a blind photographer and her boyfriend, Gandhi grew impressed with her reading of the lead character’s lines. “She was absolutely fabulous,” Gandhi said. He had imagined the lead character as an “expatriate [living in Mumbai], someone I could show without spending time on her cultural, social or economic background.” At first, El-Kashef was “curious and willing to try, but not entirely sure,” Gandhi recalled, but he persisted, and soon he was tweaking his script to make the character an Egyptian woman.
The bulk of El-Kashef’s shoot was completed in 2010, before the outbreak of the widespread protests against the Hosni Mubarak regime in January 2011, which marked the beginning of Egypt’s enormous popular uprising and its reprisals, ongoing today. “I came and acted in India, and then I [went back and] participated in the revolution,” El-Kashef told me over Skype in the second week of July this year—a week after Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, was ousted by the army. “But,” she added, “I don’t want my participation in the revolution to be taken as a promotion [for the film].”