TIFF13 Reel Reviews: Siddharth

Strong storytelling and an authentic vision of India set director Richie Mehta's latest feature off on a fine start to market, says film critic Thom Ernst.
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Siddharth arrives at TIFF with only a few days between its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and its North American premiere here in Toronto.   The film got a first official public screening as part of the Venice Days program on the eve of the festival’s final day.   A good notice in Variety and a secure worldwide distribution agreement with international sales agent Fortissimo Films sets Canadian director Richie Mehta’s Siddharth off to a fine start.

This could give cause for Mehta and producers Steven N. Bray and David Miller to experience some level of deja vu.  In TIFF 2007, Mehta, who along with Bray and Miller head up the Mississauga-based company Poor Man’s Productions, premiered his first feature film Amal.   Amal went on to earn six Genie nominations including best picture, best direction and a best actor nomination for its star, Rupinder Nagra.  It’s the kind of success that festival patrons tend to remember even with six years between films.

Even if there was no Amal leading the way, Siddharth is likely to get attention.  It’s the type of film that reads well in a festival catalogue blurb:  “…distraught father begins a desperate search to find his missing son.”  True, this year’s festival has its share of distraught fathers with missing children – the most notable is Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s U.S. venture, Prisoners.   Buyers will see these as two different films for two different markets.  They aren’t wrong, but it’s a shame because Siddharth is an accomplished work in script, performances and cinematography.  It deserves to be seen.

Prisoners might have the star power of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but Siddharth has India.

Siddharth could be one of the most faithful visions of India to come out of North America.  Mehta sets the story in a place of poverty, but he builds it on the strength of a community, the effect of which transforms New Delhi and then Mumbai from the foreign to the familiar.  There are elements to Siddharth that belong uniquely to India, but at its center is a universal story of a family’s love for their lost son and each other.

There is strength too in the performances from Rajesh Tailang as the boy’s father and Tannishta Chatterjee (Brick Lane) as his mother.

Siddharth‘s appeal could be overlooked as belonging to a niched market – it’s subtitled and has no recognizable stars – but there is an audience for this film and a bigger one should the right distributor come along.  Fortissimo got the ball rolling.  Ironically, the Canadian and Indian distribution rights are still open.

It’s promising, too, that one of the producers on board is David Miller who had great success at last year’s festival with director Jason Buxton’s Blackbird and currently is connected to first-time director Jonathan Hayes’ Algonquin, one of the better films to premiere at this year’s Montreal Film Festival.

Thom Ernst is a film writer, critic and former exec producer and host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies. Throughout the Toronto International Film Festival, he’ll be offering insight into, and market analysis on, Canadian films in the festival lineup.

See all of Ernst’s TIFF13 Reel Reviews here.