Hope is an open wound in "Siddharth," the story of a man's search for his missing son. Taking his inspiration from the firsthand account of a father who was already a year into such a search, writer-director Richie Mehta has made a film of subdued but mounting panic and grief — an unsentimental portrait of poverty in contemporary India and of a benighted man's efforts to understand the world beyond his workaday struggles.
Rajesh Tailang plays Mahendra, who plies his trade as a chain-wallah, repairing zippers for passersby on the streets of Delhi. Having been told of an opportunity for extra income, he puts his 12-year-old son on a bus to the neighboring state of Punjab for a month's work at a factory. When the boy doesn't return for the Diwali holiday, it becomes clear — sooner and more urgently for Mahendra's increasingly resentful wife (Tannishtha Chatterjee) than for him — that something awful has happened.
Against a rising murmur of horror stories — children kidnapped, maimed, trafficked in the organ and sex trades — Mahendra takes his case to the police, unable to provide a single photo. "You people never learn," a detective (Geeta Agrawal Sharma) tells the shell-shocked father. But as Mahendra looks for Siddharth in shelters and the streets, borrowing money and eventually traveling to teeming Mumbai, the man does learn something, gleaning dark truths about things he'd never imagined from seen-it-all runaways who are the same age as his boy.
Mehta explores matters more complex and unsettling than movie-tidy, against-the-odds heroism. In Tailang's fine performance, the enormity of Mahendra's mission registers in all its devastating weight.
No MPAA rating.
In Hindi with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
At Landmark's Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles.