It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Mahendra Saini (Rajesh Tailang) is a chain-wallah who peddles his zipper repair skills on the streets of Delhi. Armed with a megaphone, Mahendra markets himself to anyone within earshot. As with any service-oriented business, location is everything. So when his usual beat stops being fruitful, Mahendra’s 12-year old son, Siddharth, is recruited to earn a second income. Mahendra’s brother-in-law, Ranjit (Anurag Arora) suggests a trolley factory where child labor, though illegal, is a means of income. Siddharth travels to the factory unharmed, but two weeks before he is to return home, he disappears.
“Siddharth” uses this story to comment on the state of abducted and runaway children in India. It defies expectation by resisting the potentially exploitative aspects of its subject matter. Instead, director and co-writer Richie Mehta focuses on the parental and societal response to Siddharth’s disappearance. Mahendra sets out on an exhausting journey to find his son, and each person he encounters, from the police, to child services, to the factory manager who hired Siddharth, reacts in a nonchalant manner. It’s as if the disappearance of a child has become so commonplace that it has lost its shock value and outrage.
A sense of hopelessness invades every frame of “Siddharth,” yet its story is not emotionally manipulative. Those looking for the typical children-in-peril style mystery, one that ends with a standard resolution, will be dissatisfied. It is clear early on that Siddharth’s disappearance will be used in service to a much bigger issue, and that we may never find out his whereabouts. As Mahendra’s search goes on, its sense of dramatic urgency is tempered by the realism of Mahendra’s financial situation. As much as he’d like to drop everything to seek out his son, these monetary issues force a much slower call to action. As the film waits for Mahendra to earn enough money to buy a train or bus ticket to track down his latest lead, time mercilessly passes.
“Children missing longer than two days are very hard to find,” one child services rep tells Mahendra. “Your son’s been gone two weeks.”