‘Siddharth’ an evocative picture of India’s poverty 

click to enlarge Rajesh Tailang
  • COURTESY ZEITGEIST FILMS
  • Rajesh Tailang is excellent as a poor New Delhi working man whose son goes missing in “Siddharth.”
A powerful portrayal of poverty makes up for a dearth of narrative cohesion in the India-set "Siddharth." The small but noteworthy drama written and directed by Canada-based Richie Mehta is about a father searching for his vanished son in a hardscrabble landscape.

The fact-inspired story features a personal journey across a social-issue canvas reflecting the darker places on India’s economic map. The tone is neorealist sprinkled with domestic dramatics and tech-age phraseology. The plot suggests a missing-child thriller, but Mehta (“Amal”) fortunately, is not too interested in that.

In New Delhi, Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) works as a chain wallah – fixing zippers – to support his wife, Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), and 12-year-old Siddharth (Irfan Khan) and younger Pinky (Khushi Mathur). To boost the family’s meager income, Mahendra sends Siddharth away to work at a trolley factory. When the boy doesn’t come home for the Diwali holiday, Mahendra and Suman worry he’s been abducted by child traffickers.

Visits to curt, overworked authorities yield no clues, and Mahendra’s disconnectedness doesn’t help. “Twelve or 13,” Mahendra replies when he’s asked Siddharth’s age. Neither Mahendra nor Suman can supply a photograph of their son.

With no resources, Mahendra travels to Punjab and Mumbai to look for Siddharth and talks with hardened and fatalistic souls. The factory boss (Amitabh Srivasta) insists Siddharth ran away. A roommate believes he might be in Dongri, where missing children reportedly go.

Seemingly inspired by the social and humanist dramas of Vittorio De Sica and Satyajit Ray, the movie lacks the depth and impact of those directors’ films. Mehta takes Mahendra’s story in so many directions, it ends up having no urgency.

A running theme involving Mahendra’s lack of technology-savvy in a country where even alley cats seem to own cell phones goes nowhere. Is Mehta saying that digital know-how is essential to one’s ability to thrive today? Why is Mahendra so technology-averse? A passage in which the distressed Mahendra mistakes similar-looking boys for Siddharth falls short.

Despite the flaws, the movie is a memorable story of a father’s desperate journey and a compelling picture of the tragedy of poverty.

Scenes of Mahendra walking the streets and announcing his services on a megaphone, or putting young Siddharth on a factory-bound bus, too absorbed in his own circumstances to grasp that the boy should be in school, are among numerous examples of sad truths the movie captures.

In a charismatic performance that makes his problematic character sympathetic without turning soft, Tailang gives the film a memorable protagonist. And Mehta’s lack of sentimentality is admirable.

REVIEW

Siddharth

Starring Rajesh Tailang, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Khushi Mathur, Amitabh Srivasta

Written and directed by Richie Mehta

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

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Anita Katz

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