Sometime in 2010,a brief encounter on the streets of Delhi left 34-year-old Richie Mehta shaken. The Canadian filmmaker of Indian origin was on one of his many trips to Delhi when a rickshawpuller came up to him and said that hed lost his son. With the inability to even spell his sons name and no photo proof,the man spoke for good 10 minutes before dispersing for his search of over a year. It wasnt just the tragedy of the situation that haunted me. I was moved by the fact that in his mind,he had come to terms with his limitations. He said,bhagwaan ki marzi hai, says Mehta. A year later,Mehta used that conversation as broad strokes for his 96-minute feature film,Siddharth.
Made within a month,and shot in multiple areas of Delhi,such as Mehrauli,New Delhi Railway Station,and Jahangirpuri, the film follows Mahendra Saini,a street merchant,who is just reeling from relief after sending his 12-year-old son Siddharth for work,when he realises that his son hasnt come back home. With a family to take care of,the fear of his son being abducted and trafficked,and with a sense of helplessness that comes from having no resources and connections,Mahendra embarks on an indefinite journey with the hope that his child will somehow return.
Slated to have a North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month,along with a world release next week at the Venice Days Film Festival,Siddharth will have its first Indian screening at MAMI festival in Mumbai,in October. Featuring National School of Drama actors Rajesh Tailang and Tanishtha Chatterjee in the lead,the film aptly saves just a five-minute screen time for Siddharth. Theres just one shot of the child saying bye in the beginning,and then he disappears. He doesnt reappear and there is no photograph. I wanted the audience to feel the boys presence and memory fading,just like in real life, says the filmmaker.
Mehta,whose ancestral roots belong in Ludhiana and Jalandhar,frequents Delhi and Mumbai for writing and research. His debut film was the critically acclaimed Amal (2007,featuring Naseeruddin Shah and Seema Biswas),and was shot in the heart of Delhi. While Amal is the story of an honest rickshaw puller whose life turns upside-down when an eccentric millionaire leaves his fortune to him,in Siddharth,Mehta brings,yet again,the common man who lives an extraordinary life. I want to take a common denominator and show how the global economic system affects him. Yet,I dont show him as victim but as an exceptionally intelligent person. Siddharth has a similar character as in Amal,but in a different situation, says the filmaker.
Mehtas constant interaction with Delhi is evident. While Mumbai is very quick to come together in a state of adversary,much like New York,in Delhi,people are alienated. Yet,its visually picturesque,with the greenery,the architecture and history coming together. I love to work with so many layers, says Mehta. While the filmmaker is set to release his next,a science fiction titled Ill Follow You Down,next year,he is already working on a project based in Delhi,provoked by the 2012 December gang rape incident.