TIFF 2013 Review: SIDDHARTH Is A Beautifully Tragic Portrait Of India
A compassionate and emotionally devastating picture, Siddharth paints a portrait of Mahendra and his family that refuses equally the lures of mawkish sentimentality, poverty tourism, politcal preaching and emotionally hollow success. Instead,writer-director Richie Mehta opts for an emotional truthfulness that informs and disarms by simply presenting life as it is for many. Occupying virtually every frame of the film Rajesh Tailang delivers a tour de force performance as Mahendra, a loving father who wants nothing more than to provide as he slowly realizes that he lacks even the most basic ability to do so for his missing son. Siddharth's loss is not the result of neglect or carelessness - he loves his son deeply - but an economic reality which requires that everyone who can contribute to the family does.
Beyond the acting - which is stellar on all fronts - Mehta's work derives its power from two main fronts.
First, there are the layers of nuance and detail, all of which ring true and authentic. From Siddharth's friends playing in the alley outside the family's one room apartment to the way Mahendra goes about his daily trade - walking the streets with a megaphone calling out for anyone who has a zipper in need of fixing - to the interaction with his fellow chain-wallahs and the gangster who controls who can and cannot work near the train station, to the simple way that all the adults in their circle hand their phones off to their youngest children - the best educated of the lot - whenever something needs doing because all of the adults are illiterate, to the curious phone etiquette that plays out between those not accustomed to using such technology on a daily basis, Mehta has the poised confidence to simply portray life as it is for Mehendra without calling undue attention. Everywhere you look you will find detail upon detail.
Second, there is the ring of truth to the story - a ring of truth there because the story is, in fact, true. Mehta's script is based on an actual encounter he had with an autorickshaw driver in Delhi, the driver asking him if he knew where a place called Dongri was. No, Mehta didn't, but why do you ask? Because my son is missing and I've heard he might be there. How long have you been asking people this? For a year, he says, but he hasn't been able to stop working to seek it out himself because if he did the rest of his family would not be able to support themselves and would very likely end up starving and homeless. On return to his hotel room it took less than a minute to find Dongri - yes, it is an actual place and the reason missing children would end up there are quite unsavory - on Google but the number the driver had given Mehta to call was incorrect and so the message was never relayed and so the man's futile search continues.
Siddharth is based on a scenario that is tragic and horrible and made all the more so because it is true and it is entirely to Mehta's credit that he has taken this tale and infused it with so much dignity, respect and even beauty. This is a remarkable piece of work.