Filmmaker Richie Mehta on Siddharth
In limited release now, opening Feb 27
Siddharth, Richie Mehta’s stunning film of love and loss, reflects a sad reality of life for many of the world’s poor. Rajesh Tailang is a street chain wallah, a fixer of zippers, in Delhi, India, barely able to support his family. He sends his 12 year old son to another city to work in a factory to send money home, and as fate would have it, the child goes missing. The chain wallah travels across India looking for him, but there is no help; there are few services for people in his position. He can’t provide police with a photo of his son because he doesn’t own one and he’s not sure how old he was or what he was wearing. Tailang’s performance is subtle and quiet, gut-wrenching, an almost wordless performance expressing a desperate father’s diminishing hope and agony. I spoke with Mehta in Toronto about his unforgettable film.
It’s heartbreaking that children go missing in many communities around the world for such varied reasons. This is a new one to me. Child labour is illegal in India but this father believes that a child is born to work. Is that common?
It’s very common. What I’ve shown throughout the film is common among so many millions of people in a country like India, whereby they live day by day, and don’t have the ability to think ahead. For better or for worse, in this case, worse. One of the things we tried to accomplish in this film was to explore a different way of thinking. Mahendra’s reference points, experiences, his understanding of the world, are totally different from yours and mine, and it’s difficult for me to even wrap my head around it.
The film shows India in a bad light, where you can just send a child out on its own. Are there no social programs in place for poor families?
I actually did my best to show India in a good light by showing the kindness and compassion people show each other. The issue you speak of happens all over the world, India of course is no exception. And there are many social programs in place for poor families. Educational, financial, social – we even showed a few in the film (like the child help line, “1098”). The main problem in India is massive over-population. There are too many people for the limited resources. So on paper, there are many things in place to assist families in need. Are they properly reaching these people? Some yes, many no. A film like this is, for me, about illuminating these issues, and about how people can circumvent and navigate them, intellectually or, in this case, emotionally.
There’s a stunning moment when a street kid says maybe Siddharth got lucky and left this earth. Life can be so dangerous. That’s a profound message. Was that the point?
It certainly was. And it breaks my heart too, that moment. I must give credit to Rajesh Tailang, who starred in and wrote the Hindi dialogue in the film. He brought so much to the character and attitude of the film, and it was his idea to have that line, with all it implies. When we auditioned for that role, and I heard those words come from children’s mouths, deadpan, it was a dagger each time.