Richie Mehta’s Siddharth is far from a traditional Bollywood film in its gritty portrayal of child trafficking in present day India
Review by Chantal Victor
Siddharth is a warm and compelling film that is based on a true story, and directed by Richie Mehta (I’ll Follow You Down). Mehta met a man in the streets of Dehli in 2010, which became the inspiration for this drama. The man asked Mehta if he knew where ‘Dongri’ was because he had been told his son might have been sent there as a result of child trafficking. This film captures both the highs and the lows that this man and his family went through in order to try and find their son.
In the first act, Mahendra Saini (Rajesh Tailang) says goodbye to his son at the local bus station in Dehli as he sends him off to go work in an illegal factory to support the family. Once his son doesn’t return home when expected, the family does everything in their power to find him. Mahendra’s wife, Suman Saini (Tannishtha Chatterjee) even tries to sell the only expensive pair of earrings she has left.
Following the opening scene is a montage of images that depict the streets of Delhi. The images are of ordinary people doing their daily duties, whether it be sleeping under a tree, or waiting for customers at their windows; there is nothing specific about the subjects chosen other than commenting on the gritty lifestyle of India. This is kept constant as the film moves from Dehli to Maharashtra, and then to Mumbai. I do think some of the montages could have been a bit shorter at times because it did tend to drag, however, this may have been a stylistic choice to make the viewer feel like the parents, and how they felt while searching for their son.
Unlike conventional Indian films, Siddharth is not filled with hours of singing, dancing and elaborate outfits; instead, only one song is sung twice by the male characters at crucial moments in the film. This “less is more” approach had a much greater emotional impact on me as a viewer as it came across as a heartfelt cry to the gods to help find the little boy, rather than just another musical number.
Traditionally, Indian films revolve around a couple who are usually in love, and needing to get married, such as the iconic Monsoon Wedding, which is based around the strong bond between families. There are many times when Mahendra suggests taking a bus to another city or even a train, but hesitates as he explains that it would take 20 days at most to raise enough money to do so. Comments like these are made throughout the film about the economy of the country, and one that stood out to me was the fact that both parents couldn’t read or write, which meant they couldn’t spell their son’s name to any authorities needing details. The illiteracy of the country is then again questioned by a police officer who asks why Mahendra’s son was sent to a factory, and not to a school in the first place. The poverty cycle keeps going; without money no family members can attend school.
There were times where I felt hopeless for the family, especially when the parents started questioning what their son looked like. As a viewer I only saw the son once really quickly in the beginning of the film. At first I thought it was strange to have the story revolve around a character that no one sees, but I’ve come to realise that I felt like the father who also couldn’t remember his son after a while, and therefore felt his pain and anguish. Not once did this film feel like it was being over dramatized as other adaptations of true stories often do.
Even after having no photos to show authorities, no money to travel to all the destinations, and no contact with their son; the family manages to remain hopeful. They cry, laugh and stay optimistic together throughout the film, which is what Mehta wanted to encapsulate.
I would recommend Siddharth to those who enjoy films based on true stories, as you will empathise with the Saini family, and the many families in India who go through this on a day to day basis. I give Siddharth a 3.5 star rating.
Images courtesy of Pinnacle Films