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 he’d lost his son. With the inability to even spell his son’s name and no photo proof, the man spoke for good 10 minutes before dispersing for his search of over a year. “It wasn’t 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 10-minute 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. Mahendra is just reeling from sending his 12-year-old son Siddharth to work, in order to alleviate their financial burden, when he realises that his son hasn’t 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. “There’s just one shot of the child saying bye in the beginning, and then he disappears. He doesn’t reappear and there is no photograph. I wanted the audience to feel the boy’s 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 Delhi. The story is of an honest rickshawpuller whose life turns upside-down when an eccentric millionaire leaves his fortune to him. “I want to take a common denominator and show