Incredibly Powerful Film Delivered With A Quiet Stoicism. Haunting.
There’s an almost documentary realness to Canadian writer/director Richie Mehta’s Siddharth, starring Rajesh Tailang as Mahendra, a naive but loving father who scrapes by on the streets of Delhi, fixing broken zips for a pittance from those who would rather he was invisible, so that he can feed his young family.
Married to Suman, played by Anna Karenina’s Tannishtha Chatterjee, she raises their two young children while he works all day long. Off screen, a deal has been arranged with Mahendra’s wheeler dealer brother-in-law, Ranjit (Anurag Arora) to send their 12-year-old son to work in a factory owned by a distant cousin in a rural village far from the city. When he fails to return for Diwali, dread sinks as the young couple realise he would never let his family down and tales of child kidnapping abound.
After a heart-breaking encounter with a local policewoman, played by a brusque likeability by Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Mahendra realises that they don’t even have an up-to-date picture of their much-loved son, and she chastises him for casually committing the crime of child labour, even as she sympathises.
Not to be defeated, Mahendra sets out on a desperately unlikely quest to discover his whereabouts and bring him home that takes him out into the country and then ultimately onto Mumbai, scrabbling for money when and where he can, often at the expense of his own pride.
Tailang and Mehta collaborated on the extremely naturalistic dialogue, obviously largely improvised, and it artfully draws you into this vibrant but vaguely menacing world of extreme poverty scattered around the edges of Indian society. Bob Gundu’s beautifully startling cinematography utterly captivates, exposing the underbelly of this chaotic, alien world. There’s a palpable rawness that sucker punches you in the guts as you yearn for a happy resolution, all the while fearing that this most un-Bollywood of tales is unlikely to deliver such an upbeat ending.
The performances are uniformly magnificent, the location work incredible and the emotional impact lasting. Mehta’s is a truly fascinating film that delivers a searing social indictment without ever resorting to didactic moralising.
Stephen A Russell