‘Siddharth’ Cast Interview With Riche Mehta and Tannishtha Chatterjee
Inspired by a real life encounter the film’s writer/director Richie Mehta (AMAL) had in 2010 with a desperate man he met on the streets of India, SIDDHARTH details an impoverished father’s attempts to find his missing child, searching throughout the urban slums of India.
The film is a powerful statement about timely issues of global child labor exploitation from a personal, complicated family perspective. Rich Girl got a chance to chat with Indian-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta and lead actress Tannishtha Chatterjee.
Rich Girl: What inspired the story?
Richie Mehta: I go to India often and while there I met a rickshaw-walla who lost his son. So I asked what happened ? He told me he sent his 12-year-old boy to work in Punjab and he believed the boy was kidnapped and sent to Dongri. For about a year he was asking everyone he met for help in finding Dongri and in just a few minutes of research I found it. Of course by then it was too late to find the boy too much time had passed.
Rich Girl: How did you choose your cast?
Richie Mehta: The two leads Rajesh Tailang and Tannishtha Chatterjee are good friends of mine and it was written for them. They brought a lot of conception to the film and as I was writing the script I would talk to them so we had great collaboration. The guy who plays the railway station gangster (Mukesh Chhabra) was also the casting director for the rest of the film; now he is a well-known casting director in Bombay. His expertise is finding actors who truly reflect the world that they are portraying.
Rich Girl: Was it a challenge to write the story?
Richie Mehta: Yes, in a way it was; I spend a lot of time on my scripts and I begin with an outline. Then I do revisions. The film is a real reflection of what was on the page. I do a lot of quality checks on the script before I am ready to shoot. I have a great team of people who aren’t afraid to criticize my work and give input.
Rich Girl: Were there parts of the story that was emotionally taxing for you to write?
Richie Mehta: The research was the most taxing part of the process. To really get to the truth there were some really shocking moments and some real revelations to get there. I couldn’t show my lead character going through the journey if I didn’t know what that journey was. The first part of the story is everything the man went through to look for the boy. The second half is all conjecture; it’s me figuring out what would have happened once I got to Dongri. That was a real shock for me and there were a lot of details I attempted to put in the film.
Rich Girl: How many drafts of the script did you do?
Richie Mehta: Fifty, ‘Siddharth’ was written very quickly. It took a year and I just finished another film that took 12 years to write.
Rich Girl: Do you ever get writers block? And if you do how to you overcome it?
Richie Mehta: I do sometimes and when that happens it means I have hit the end of my process. So that means it’s time to turn to some one to help me make it better. Now if I get to a point where I need to solve a problem in the script I will stop, go to sleep and when I wake up I usually have a solution. I just need a fresh and focused mind.
Rich Girl: The look of the film is so organic and beautiful how did you choose your cinematographer?
Richie Mehta: His name is Bob Gundu; he lives in Toronto and South Asian heritage like myself. He is a one-man show he came with all his gear. His expertise in capturing the environment was amazing; this was also the first feature film he ever shot. At times it was just us on the street capturing images. It also helped that he has a background in visual arts, especially when we had the perfect shot, and some one would walk right in the frame Bob would digitally remove that person from the shot in post. We also wanted minimal crew so we would feel the authenticity of the place and not be an invasive presence.
Rich Girl: How did you choose your composer?
Richie Mehta: His name is Andrew Lockington from Canada and he is primarily an orchestra composer. He is dear friend of mine and he really wanted to do the film so I was honored to have him. The whole end sequence of the film is all music. So much is going on in the beginning of the film that I didn’t want the music to pander to the emotions of the audience, I wanted it to be subtly woven in which was done beautifully by Andrew. When the film comes out on DVD there will be a very detailed extra documentary on the making of the film.
Rich Girl: The little girl who played the daughter was fantastic. Who is she?
Richie Mehta: Her name is Khushi Mathur and again thanks to our amazing casting director Mukesh. We did some workshops and found her in one. She had done a play or two but never really acted before. In fact she didn’t even know what a film was.
Rich Girl: On a personal note what did you learn doing this film?
Richie Mehta: I think it was important for me to show the kindness of the people. I learned to show that with out banging people over the head with it. There is a way to visually capture the essence, the soul of the people. It’s not easy, it’s not tangible but in order for it to happen it takes heart and courage to do that. You have to soul search the approach and be present when you are doing it.
Rich Girl: You touched on so many issues in this film, economic class, human trafficking, and child labor, so on that note what are you hoping audiences to come away with after seeing the film?
Richie Mehta: Actually all the issues you just mentioned I also hope they become aware of the relationship they have with people in other parts of the world. That we all have the same issues but most important I would hope they come away with more understanding and empathy.
Rich Girl: We love your film and can’t wait to see what is next from you?
Richie Mehta: Thanks and I do have another film out titled ‘I’ll Follow You Down’, it’s a science fiction drama. It’s also another very personal script as well. It stars Gillian Anderson, Haley Joel Osment and Rufus Sewell. You can get it on I Tunes.
Interview with Tannishtha Chatterjee
Rich Girl: How did you approach your role?
Tannishtha: Well, I’m not a Mom so I took my inspiration from my Mom and how she is with me. As an actor I have to place my self in the situation and ask what would I do or feel if this happened to me. I have a younger sister and I am a little over protective with her, so in that sense I feel like a Mom with her. So connecting all these emotions helped me tap into my character. In the end all Moms are different and not everyone deals with issues the same way. My character (Suman Saini) as a Mom in the film is quite practical even more so than the husband, when her son disappears she is looking to all the practical solutions, how to find him, what to do next instead of sitting and waiting she is emotionally affected but she needs to act on finding solutions.
Also to keep in mind her place in society; she stays at home, does not work and her interaction to the outside world is very limited. In reality she can only give ideas because she can’t really go out and do anything about it.
Rich Girl: You did a great job showing the humanity of your character, was that a difficult task?
Tannishtha: Well I loved the fact that Richie included shots that were taken candidly while we were roaming the streets and it showed us smiling and laughing while dealing with the tragedy. Life, even in the gravest situation is never one-dimensional.
Rich Girl: The first time you read the script what were your thoughts?
Tannishtha: I had been a part of the story form the beginning with the writing of the first draft and Richie had both Rajesh and myself in mind from the beginning. He would bounce ideas around with us throughout the various stages of writing the script. What I loved about the script as I said before even in the gravest moment sometimes the truth seeps in and at the end, both of them are finally coming to the realization that their son may not return; yet they are still living in that place of hope. Even as so much time has passed it is then they know they must move on. Life is like that you just have to let go and move on.
Rich Girl: What did you learn on a personal note doing this film?
Tannishtha: On every film as actors we learn a lot of things. For me acting is a spiritual process. Because we experience something on a deep level especially doing films like this, you have to feel the dialogue, feel the moment. You have to breathe and internalize the entire process. So I live the character, I live the story and then I am out if it. Each film teaches me go live in moments and I think life is like that. So this film taught me to take one moment at a time and more than anything not to take everything so seriously for life is so tenuous.
Rich Girl: What do you want audiences to come away with after seeing ‘Siddharth’?
Tannishtha: The response to the film has been amazing and I would hope that they will continue to find it a compelling story.
Richie Mehta’s first feature film, AMAL, debuted in 2007 and has won over 30 international awards. Mehta recently completed the sci-fi feature FOLLOW YOU DOWN, starring Haley Joel Osment, Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, and Victor Garber, available on I Tunes.