With its heart-rending narrative, Siddharth, is a film that director Richie Mehta hopes “will make things better.” No doubt, it will continue to haunt viewers long after it’s seen. At its core, it’s a simple story that addresses a complex issue without overt sermonizing. Instead, by focusing on one small family’s tragedy, the message of Siddharth is quietly effective.
Mahendra Saina is a chain-wallah, a street peddler mending broken zippers, who sends his 12-year-old son, Siddharth, to work at a factory to help with expenses. But after a few weeks, the family stops hearing from the boy. Impoverished and illiterate, Mahendra, his wife, and daughter agonize over Siddharth’s fate. Powerless to find him, they’re left grasping at straws. The evocative music by Andrew Lockington transports the film beautifully.
Below, director Richie Mehta shares his thoughts:
International Examiner: You wrote the script based on a true story?
Richie Mehta: A guy I met in India driving a rickshaw asked me to help find his missing son. He didn’t know how to spell his son’s name and he didn’t have a photograph of him—just the name of the place, Dongri, where he believed his son was. I did a Google search, and found it quickly, while he had been asking people for a year.
IE: What has been the audience’s reaction?
RM: “Why is it so sad?” I wish I were there in the theaters to address that question.
When they go to a movie, audiences don’t like to take that movie away with them. You had a diversion for two hours, and you go out of the theater. I wanted it to stay with you, to linger, even though it’s not a happy ending. I’m going to leave it to you to bring solace to this situation. It’s something to think about, to find the optimism, to find the resilience in these characters.
IE: Those characters are so authentic, it didn’t seem like they were acting.
RM: That’s exactly what I looked for, realistic performances. The two leads (Rajesh Tailang and Tannishtha Chatterjee) are very well known, professional actors in India. The rest were cast by the railway station gangster in the film, Mukesh Chhabra, who’s also the casting director and very prolific. They knew those people on the streets. They understood archetypes and how to bring life to them.
IE: How have Indians responded to the film?
RM: It’s been screened at several festivals in India. It was very important to make this film real, but I’m not undermining the situation. I want to see Indians in a good light. This film is not out to exploit anyone.
IE: How will the film expose the problem of child trafficking?
RM: It’s an economic issue. Traffickers wouldn’t be doing this type of thing if it weren’t a viable living. It’s not about cutting the head of the trafficking serpent, but why it happens. We need to make it really impossible for them to make a profit. I don’t know how to do to it, but I hope someone can watch this film and be inspired to do it.
IE: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
RM: No. In high school, I was in science and math. I went with the flow, but corrected it quickly and went into the arts. I attended the University of Toronto for fine arts and cinema studies and did my post grad at Sheridan College. My brother is a writer. He wrote the short story I made into my first film, Amal. He’s the literary side. I’m full on screenwriting and directing.
IE: As a Canadian with Indian roots, will you make more films in India?
RM: The next film is back to science fiction, but the next two scripts I’m writing are based in Dehli. Every time I go there to work on a film, something happens to me. It’s a beautiful environment, an interesting place to see a range of humanity. It also happens to have the second language I speak, Hindi. I don’t want to alienate non-Indian, non-Hindi speaking filmmakers from going there, but access is much easier and the understanding, culturally, when you speak the language.
IE: What’s next?
RM: I’m actually working on a couple of scripts. I’m also a judge on the reality show, Bollywood Star.
IE: Any favorite Indian filmmakers?
RM: Raj Kapoor. I do love his work and believe he had a very strong grasp of craft. Yash Chopra—the ’70s and ’80s films he did about lower and middle lower class people. They told stories that were extremely entertaining, with archetypal characters about positive change in the country. Those films in India are so potent that people listen to them. So, you can slide in these messages about ‘making things better.’
Siddharth opens July 25 at the Landmark Varsity in the University District. 4329 University Way N.E. (206) 632-6412. For more information, visit http://www.landmarktheatres.com/letters/siddharth.htm.