SIDDHARTH—-‘the truth hurts’, is usually offered in a glib manner, but it certainly fits this beautifully crafted 2013 heartbreaker from Canadian writer/director Ritchie Mehta, joining a proud and mournful rank that includes the likes of El Norte, Metro Manila and A Better Life.
“Maybe Siddharth got lucky and left this world.”
12-year old ‘Siddharth’, sent by his struggling Delhi family to a factory job in a strange city, goes suddenly and inexplicably missing. The anxious father, ‘Mahendra’ (Rajesh Tailing) embarks on a hope-against-hope search through the bureaucratic and logistical nightmare of population-swamped, suffering-inured modern urban India, ultimately to the seething powerhouse-purgatory of Mumbai. Doing what she can to help at home, desperate mother ‘Suman’ (Tannishtha Chatterjee) waits with their precocious, tech-savvy young daughter (Kushy Matur). Friends help best they can. The worst is feared.
From the first minute to it’s final 96th, this is gripping, utterly believable tragedy, whose matter-of-fact simplicity in its inexorable narrative progression quietly attains an epic quality. Mehta’s achievement of that is done on a bare budget without Big Scenes, relying through acting nuance, seemingly effortless directorial and editing observation, keen cinematography and a quietly powerful music score.
Mehta based his screenplay on his encounter with a man in Delhi, who related his own story of search and sorrow.* A swirl of characters are sketched quickly but vividly, and the camera unobtrusively captures dozens of telling background images. With Anurag Aurora, Amitab Srivasta and Mukesh Chhabra (who also did the casting) . Shot by Bob Gundu, scored by Andrew Lockington. Mehta shares editing credit with Stuart A. McIntyre and script credit with lead actor Tailing, who wrote the dialog. A tiny and powerful film about a great and terrible problem, this superb effort went unseen in the States, earning less than $49,000.
*Mehta: “In 2010, I met a man on the streets of Delhi, who asked me for help in finding a place called “Dongri.” I asked him what it was, he told me he thought it was where his lost son was (!)
He went on to tell me his story – that he sent his 12-year-old boy away to work, and never saw him again. He believed his son was kidnapped and trafficked. After the initial shock wore off, I asked him for more details – a photograph, the spelling of his son’s name. He couldn’t answer any of them (being illiterate, and having never taken a picture). Since he was obliged to work every day to support his wife and daughter, all he could do was ask others for help. And he’d been doing this for over a year.
Knowing that this man didn’t have the ability, nor the means, to even properly inquire about his son is an unfathomable tragedy. He barely understood why this kind of thing happens, much less how.
This film is my attempt to reconcile my extremely layered relationship with this circumstance. It’s a story made up in equal parts by tragedy and optimism, and I hope what we’ve done here transmits even a fraction of the confusion, sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, hope that I felt in meeting this man.”