By Rachel Kunjummen Paulose
“Siddharth” is the story of a working class family’s struggle to regain their missing twelve year old son, whose name lends this stark film its title.
Young Siddharth’s plight is the story of all too many children lost in the horrors of human trafficking. Even more sadly, the film is based on the true story of a family who related their experience with the film’s director in the hopes of raising publicity regarding their lost son.
Mehendra is a New Delhi chain-wallah married to homemaker Suman. The family lives at subsistence level and struggles to meet their basic needs. They have no phone, appliances, or significant material possessions. Mehendra daily solicits customers from a street corner, uncertain if or how much money he will earn on any given day.
Using a family contact, Mehendra sends his only son, Siddharth, to work in factory far from home for temporary employment. The family contact claims Siddharth will work with other young boys in manual labor until the Hindu Diwali holiday, when he says Siddarth will return home.
Diwali comes and goes, and Siddharth does not return home. Mehendra attempts to find his son through his family contact and then through law enforcement, both of whom are unhelpful. The police officer who takes Mehendra’s report even blames him for purportedly placing his desire for more money above his son’s safety, lashing out, “You people never learn!” Without so much as a picture of his son to share with authorities or a full name of Siddharth’s alleged employer, Mehendra is unable to make any progress in attempting to find his son.
Finally, Mehendra cobbles together enough money to take a bus trip north to Bombay in a final desperate attempt to find his son. Walking the streets, Mehendra seeks information and help from strangers. Eventually, Mehendra comes upon a factory owner who claims Siddharth did indeed work for him but ran away. The obstreperous factory owner demands money from Mehendra, claiming Siddharth broke his contract.
A child in the factory who seems to know better whispers a lead to Mehendra, suggesting Siddharth may have been sold to child traffickers. Mehendra searches aimlessly for Siddharth, without hope and without reason to hope.
A striking aspect of this film is the isolation confronting Siddharth’s family in the midst of their harrowing trial. The absence of support or help from their families, communities, or the government only adds to the film’s sense of utter helplessness. Moreover, Mehendra and Suman interact minimally with each other. Indeed, Siddharth himself is never pictured. When a young boy’s visage is flashed across the screen at the end of the film, the viewer still cannot be certain if this is the tragic Siddharth.
Mehendra and Suman remain strangely unemotive throughout this ordeal. Indeed, the only tears shed come at the climax of the movie, when Mehendra realizes he may never find his son. Out of money and leads, Mehendra must choose whether to continue his one man search for his son or go back home to keep his wife and daughter from almost certain starvation. The ending of the film, far from happy, is a realistic but disheartening reminder of the massive scope of the challenge facing victims and their families.
Human trafficking is an international epidemic devastating women and children sold into sexual slavery and forced labor. “Siddharth” is a realistic portrayal of the challenges victims and their families in the developing world face when attempting to confront wrongdoers who operate the levers of power in their societies. The lack of assistance, resources, or even compassion for victims and their families is a wrong which calls out for a global campaign to finally abolish this brutal evil against humanity.