I had high hopes going to the cinema to see Siddharth – the movie is marketed as a heartfelt story of a father who goes across India to find his missing son.
Mahendra Saini (Rajesh Tailang) works as a chain-wallah and walks around New Delhi, fixing broken zippers to supplement his part-time job in a jeans factory. As things are getting tough financially, Siddharth is sent to work in Ludhiana. The movie opens with Mahendra saying goodbye to his son Siddharth who is about to travel to Ludhiana on a bus. On a phone call home, Siddharth relays that he has arrived safely and that things are going well there and promises to head home for the Diwali festival. Then, he goes missing. We are told that he actually disappeared two weeks before from the factory, presumed to have run away. Mahendra is faced with the difficult task of having to report his son’s disappearance – when he nor his wife has any photo of Siddharth. Mahendra can only follow hearsays and vague information, trying to find Siddharth by himself …
Rajesh Tailang portrays Mahendra convincingly as a father who is really at loss on how to find his son when all odds are stacked against him. He doesn’t know exactly how old his son is, he doesn’t have his photo and nor does he know any distinguishing marks or scars. It is understandable, as Mahendra and his family come from low socio-economic background. I certainly empathise with him. Having grown up in Indonesia, I see a lot of similarities of the settings, the stifling bureaucracy, as well as the phragmatic sense of “It’s the will of God”.
What is a tad disappointing from the movie is the voyeuristic view of the poverty in India – it’s as if this movie were targeted towards eastern suburb dwellers who can then ooh-aah over “third-world poverty”, the scenic slums and how people live in the other extreme of the socio-economic scale before such viewers return to their goji berry salad and almond milk latte. There is a fine line between a realistic portrayal and a showcase – and I think Siddharth is tilting too much into poverty porn. I didn’t get that sense at all when I watched Slumdog Millionaire many years ago. Somebody should’ve also had the discipline in tightening the storyline — too many side plots that do not contribute anything to the story.
All in all, Siddharth is a good movie about love and the harsh reality of the life out there. We tend to romanticise poverty, but the truth is, it’s hard to get up when you are really down in the lowest rung.