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When someone tells you to just have another kid if you can’t find your own, that’s pretty cold. Such chilliness defines the mood of Siddharth, Canadian director Richie Mehta’s missing-child story set in India’s densely populated capital, Delhi.
There’s a noticeable lack of emotion in Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang), the father of the titular character, who sent his 12-year-old son to another city to work for a month—and this apparent detachment severely undermines the film. When the boy doesn’t return when expected, Mahendra and his wife, Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), discover that Siddharth, known as Siddhu, has been gone for a while. His employer claims that he ran away, but his parents don’t believe he would do such a thing.
Because Mehta, who wrote the script with the help of Maureen Dorey and Tailang, jumps from day 1 to day 30 in just two or three quick scenes, most of the story comprises Mahendra’s search. Mahendra travels around the country when local sleuthing turns up little information, but he looks more like he’s lost a job than a son. It’s unclear whether Mahendra’s incongruent stoicism is due to Tailang’s relative inexperience onscreen, or if it’s just the way the character is written—after all, Mahendra and Suman are parents who don’t even know their child’s age.
Wherever Mahendra seeks help, he’s met with blame: A cop and Siddhu’s boss accuse him of carelessness, and Suman digs at his inability to provide for his family. There’s an indictment of child labor somewhere here, but it’s not terribly strong—the family had been struggling financially, and when Mahendra puts Siddhu on a bus, it feels like the boy is heading off to camp. He even sounds happy to be at the job site when he gets there.
Siddharth portrays the near futility of finding a missing person in a populous area when you lack money, technology, and even basic information like the name of your child’s boss. And although some friends and family treat Mahendra warmly, most people are, well, jerks. Conversations are abrupt and feel harsh from their opening “hello”s. It seems like everyone’s tone is set to “don’t bother me, asshole.” Sometimes there are words of gratitude; other times it’s just hanging up or walking away without so much as a dismissive “thanks.” It would take unfathomable strength to face a tragedy under such conditions.
Still, Mahendra doesn’t break down or seem all that distraught—and, to a lesser degree, neither does Suman. As the film nears its close, Siddharth’s mournful string score becomes unbearable, and when Dad finally sheds some tears, it’s too late to elicit sympathy. The takeaway? Life in Delhi can be hard. Losing your son, slightly less so.