Every taking-the-law-into-your-own-hands story has that moment when the officials admit to helplessness.
In Siddharth, an indie Indian drama following a father’s search for his son from Delhi to Mumbai, that admission, from a curiously blasé woman in a children’s shelter, contains multitudes: “We’re underfunded as it is,” she says. Then she talks like a wiki of herself: “There are so many missing children this time of year. It’s a big business. It feeds the organ trade, sex trade, child labor.”
It’s a wide-ranging social crisis rather than mere plotting that forces scraping-by Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) to traverse half the subcontinent and trust his wife with his zipper-repair business. (This involves wandering the streets with a megaphone, soliciting customers.) But for all its scenes of orphans and hardscrabble street life, and its spirit of shrugging helplessness, Siddharth always feels ferociously personal.
Mahendra’s 12-year-old son has vanished halfway through an out-of-town job he was dispatched to, and Mahendra has only one clue to work with: that, as another kid says, lost children wind up in a place called Dongril. This isn’t the usual missing-kid drama, though. Mahendra may say things like, “Sometimes a real man has to travel alone,” but he’s mostly hapless, stymied by little knowledge of the system and the realities of his poverty.
He and his wife have no photos of their missing son, and we sit through a good half hour of his questioning strangers before someone more well-heeled finally thinks to type “Dongril” into the search engine on her phone. The photography fascinates even when the story flags, and the film bristles with small revelations.