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Drawn From a Hat TIFF Reviews: 'Siddharth' Is Every Parent's Nightmare

Posted: 09/13/2013 5:41 pm

What if your child went missing and you had no photograph of him to share, no money, no Internet to search, and no one who could help you? You would probably do everything you could the hard way. Save up so you could travel in person to the last place he'd been, stay out all day and night asking strangers if they'd seen him. In Canada, this wouldn't be the case. In some places, this is reality.

Let me rewind.

Drawn From a Hat TIFF Reviews: As part of our Spotlight on TIFF series, the HuffPost Blog Team bought a package of tickets for five random Canadian films (TIFF selected the movies). We then drew from a hat to determine which team members would see what. We did no prior research on the films, the idea being to see what would happen when we came to a movie with an open mind, unencumbered by preconceptions or baggage.

It was so hot on Wednesday -- felt like 43 degrees hot. And I was late for my TIFF movie, Siddharth. It was at the Winter Garden Theatre, and I was biking up and down Yonge St. looking for a place to lock up, head full of angry cyclist diatribes, all worked up, my mind far away from the movie I was about to see -- but that was also because I didn't even know what the movie was about.

I don't think I've ever gone to a movie without the slightest inkling about what I was going to see. I didn't know who the director was, how long it was -- nothing. I was quite the opposite of the many film fanatics who frequent TIFF screenings. I felt like a bit of a noob.

I made it in the theatre before the lights went down, which is lucky for me because the Winter Garden Theatre is pretty beautiful -- I was even sitting right beside a giant plaster tree! The place was packed -- apparently it was the North American premiere of the film. The lead actor was even at the screening, his first time on North American soil.

I was eagerly anticipating the first few seconds of the film -- moments of true surprise! The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, the movie started. And it all started to hit me at once:

Subtitles! That was a shock! OK, we're in India. We're in India and we're not speaking English. I can work with this.

Though the movie is named after him, we never see Siddharth. At 12 years old, he was sent off to work in another city by his father, Mahendra, the film's main character. Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) is a chain-wallah -- a zipper-fixer -- who struggles to provide for his family. Because of this, even though child labour is illegal, off Siddharth goes to a factory to help them make ends meet.

When the young boy doesn't return to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as promised, the family starts to worry. Soon enough they are told by the factory owner that Siddharth ran away two weeks prior. Knowing that his son would never run away from a job, Mahendra begins to search. He is told by almost everyone that it's probable his son has been kidnapped and sold, and that there isn't much to be done, especially because the family doesn't even have a single photo of the boy to aid in the search.

As both the film and Mahendra's search develop, the viewer -- certainly this viewer -- is left with a feeling of guilt. Mahendra spends so much time saving up money to travel, and asking questions of everyone he meets just to get some answers -- the kind of answers that you or I could find in seconds using Google.

He dedicates all his time and money to finding his son, making gains only by the inch, slowly driving himself mad, and we sitting in the theatre can do nothing to help. The experience of watching this movie was a lot like my experience reading about all the terrible things that happen far away day after day. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how.

What made Siddharth all the more real was the fact that it was based on a true story. Toronto director Richie Mehta (Amal) met an autorickshaw driver in India while working on a project. This man, like Mahendra in the film, asked Mehta if he'd heard of the town called Dongri, where he'd heard stolen children like his son were taken. Mehta said he hadn't, but took the phone number the driver gave him and said he would call when he could. Once Mehta had access to a computer, he looked up the location -- there it was. Easy peasy. He called to share the information -- but it was the wrong number.

Mehta never found that driver again, and was never able to tell him how to get to the place he so desperately wanted to find. Because of this experience he vowed to do the man's story justice by making the audience question: "Is this fair?"

When the screening ended, and I walked back to my bike, all my anger and tension from earlier had washed away. Siddharth made me sad, but it also made me think about everything I have. We're all lucky to live where we do, and I was glad to be reminded of that. Sadly, that reminder comes at the cost of someone else's life, as it so often does.

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