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Review: ‘Siddharth’ explores the darker corners of India (Includes first-hand account)

Seeing an Amber Alert for a missing child generates a lot of emotions, regardless of whether you have any connection to the family. It’s easy to sympathize with the concerned relatives as your mind wanders to the worst case scenario with equal lack of effort. Both of these reactions are a part of human nature as empathy strengthens our sense of community and the other attempts to prepare us for bad news. It’s troublesome to see an unsupervised child in a crowded mall; how much easier it must be for predators when the kid is alone in a teeming a city. Siddharth is the name of a missing 12-year-old from Delhi.

Even though child labour is illegal in India, struggling families are sometimes forced to send their young sons to work to make ends meet. Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) sent his son, Siddharth, to a factory in a neighbouring city on his brother-in-laws recommendation. Scheduled to be away for one month, his family grows concerned when he doesn’t return for Diwali or the days following as promised. With suggestions that his son ran away or was abducted, Mahendra goes on a multi-city search with nothing but his memory of his son’s face in hopes of doing what the police probably can’t — finding his son.

There is a lot of subtext in this picture regarding the social and economic situation in India. In his third feature, director Richie Mehta uses an individual narrative to illustrate various issues. Mahendra works endlessly peddling his services to support his family, but the consequence of his hard work is not being as involved at home. When trying to describe his son, he says he’s 12 or 13 years old and has no idea whether he has any identifying scars. It’s not a matter of neglect, but a perceived necessity for their well-being. Several weeks into the search, Mahendra fears he’s already forgetting his son’s face.

Even though the story takes place in various cities throughout the country, it’s not positioned as a travelogue. The focus remains solely on Mahendra’s quest as he frantically tracks down clues and attempts to retrace his son’s final days before his disappearance. The cities are intentionally nearly indistinguishable from each other, harbouring the same economic and social difficulties that can be witnessed on every corner of every street. This isn’t a shiny story of an Indian climbing above impoverishment; it’s about the hardships of living within it.

Director: Richie Mehta
Starring: Rajesh Tailang, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Anurag Arora

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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