There are no ticking clocks, ransom notes or deadlines in "Siddharth," Canadian director Richie Mehta's Indian drama about a child's disappearance. What's there instead is disposable humanity, karmic uncertainty and the sense of walking around the lip of an abyss.
Mehta allows the nation to speak for itself: When the young Siddharth (Irfan Kahn) fails to return home from the illegal factory job to which his parents have sent him, there is never a sense of dire urgency or desperation, just hopelessness. In a country of 1.2 billion, finding a misplaced 12-year-old with black hair is like counting the grains of sand at the beach.
Part of what makes "Siddharth" so troubling and moving is the difficulty we have situating our sympathies. The parents, after all, are complicit: Siddharth's father, Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) is a "chain-wallah," an itinerant fixer of zippers and bracelets who hasn't been making ends meet, so when his brother-in-law-to-be Ranjit (Anurag Arora) suggests the trolley factory job for Siddharth, he sends his son to Punjab. When the boy fails to arrive home on the appointed date, it not only turns out that the boy had left his job two weeks earlier, but that Ranjit knew he had "run away." What Mehta does is put us in the shoes of a father who is blaming himself, but also doesn't know who else to blame, as he travels from city to city on increasingly wilder goose chases.
At a certain point, "Siddharth" approaches the surreal: Visiting the factory itself, Mahendra is told by his son's roommate that he may have been taken to "Dongri" -- "the place where missing children end up." For the frustrated Mahendra, Dongri becomes near-mythic, a land of lost boys where he will find his son and take him home. The truth is somewhat different, but for a while, Mehta works some merciful magic.
PLOT A 12-year-old Indian boy is shipped off to work illegally, then vanishes.
CAST Rajesh Tailang, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anurag Arora
BOTTOM LINE Disturbing, enchanted, slightly fantastical. (In Hindi with English subtitles)