Film Review: SIDDHARTH (written and directed by Richie Mehta)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 23, 2014

in Film

IN THE LAND OF MUNDANE FILMMAKING, SUBJECT MATTER IS KING

Having difficulty making ends meet fixing broken zippers on the streets of New Delhi, Mehendra (Rajesh Tailang) sends his 12-year-old son Siddharth to work at a factory in a distant city for a month. But when the boy doesn’t return as scheduled and his parents discover that he vanished from his job after only two weeks, Mehendra goes off in search of his son.

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With its built-in motor, the premise of writer/director Richie Mehta’s second feature Siddharth is as simple and straightforward as his filmmaking style. He shows us an India devoid of the romanticism we’re used to seeing in movies about that country. As we follow the ignorant and illiterate Mehendra – who doesn’t have a cell phone and has evidently never heard of the internet – on his desperate quest, we see an impoverished land that is a maze of slums in which poverty and overcrowding contribute to people’s indifference and hostility towards this anguished father. Mr. Mehta gets admirable, naturalistic performances from his cast, and Bob Gundu’s camera and lighting work is unobtrusive, which fits well with the film’s realistic style. If one judges a movie by what it has rather than what it lacks, I can say that overall Mr. Mehta does a fine job.

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The thing is, now having seen it, I can say that I’d never watch a film like Siddharth without being asked to, meaning outside of an artificial setting. For me to enjoy a motion picture it must have artistic and/or entertainment value, and Siddharth is limited in both respects (even a film with a tragic subject matter can be entertaining; recall George Sluizer’s 1988 Dutch masterpiece The Vanishing). Mr. Mehta doesn’t allow for many asides on Mehendra’s journey, nor does he expand on his character by having him overcome different little obstacles that would potentially not only reveal more aspects of his personality but also give the landscape of the film more texture. This suggests a lack of insight on the part of the director into the world and characters he’s exploring. Perhaps Mr. Mehta is concerned that too many close-ups, too much drama, and too much imagination would take away from the reality of the story, and that’s a reasonable argument, but it’s also why most of these lauded so-called “independent” festival features are so unbearably dull. Siddharth transcends neither its subject nor its narrative, and if its protagonist was searching not for his son but for, say, his stolen bicycle, there would be even less reason to see it.

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photos courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

Siddharth
Zeitgeist Films
Poor Man’s Productions in association with Wonderland India
Canada-India / color /97 min
Hindi with English subtitles
opens on June 27, 2014 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York City
opens on July 11, 2014 at Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles
with additional cities to follow

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