Tag Archives: Siddharth

Movie Review: The Price of Free (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The Price of Free on YouTube

The fantastic 2013 drama Siddharth follows a poor family’s search for their son, a victim of child trafficking. 12-year-old Siddharth takes a factory job in a distant city for a month to earn money for his younger sister’s dowry. When the boy doesn’t return, his parents have to search for him with scant information of his whereabouts, extremely limited funds, and no picture of their son to show to the authorities.

For parents facing a similar crisis to the family in Siddharth, Delhi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“BBA”) is there to help. The documentary The Price of Free gives a look at the organization and its devoted leader, Kailash Satyarthi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in freeing more than 87,000 Indian children from slavery. (The film debuted at the Sundance film festival under the title Kailash and was renamed before its streaming video release on YouTube.)

The keys to Satyarthi’s success are his complete commitment to the principle that every child should have a childhood and his optimism that this is an achievable goal — albeit an incredibly difficult one. The Price of Free explains just how complex the problem really is, with Satyarthi himself admitting to underestimating the scope the first time he tried to free a man’s daughter from sex slavery and failed.

Actually rescuing a child from forced labor is somewhere in the middle of a process that begins with trying to stop trafficking from happening in the first place, through a combination of laws and corporate pressure to poverty eradication efforts. After a child is trafficked, the BBA team attempts to locate and release the child — and any other children present — hopefully arresting their captors in the process.

What to do with the children they rescue is a whole other problem, one that Satyarthi and his wife Sumedha discovered early in their activism as their apartment filled with traumatized children far from home. The solution was Mukti Ashram, a temporary boarding school run by Sumedha as a place where recently freed kids could live, play, and learn while BBA workers track down their parents.

The Price of Free opens with footage of a harrowing factory raid that liberates sixty-three boys, the most frightened of whom is little Karim. Given the presence of police alongside BBA activists, the boys assume they are in trouble, and Karim won’t stop crying. In a surprisingly intimate gesture, Satyarthi sits with Karim and has the boy touch his beard, joking with Karim that he’s missing a beard of his own. It pays off days later, when Satyarthi hears that Karim is still nervous at the ashram. He asks, “Is this the friend who touched my beard? Show me how you did it.” Little Karim beams as he reaches up to give Satyarthi’s cheek a familiar pet.

A heartbreaking problem BBA addresses is the reality that some of the children they reunite with their families will just wind up in forced labor again, such is the depth of their poverty. One father admits to accepting a bribe from a trafficker of as little as 2000 rupees — less than $30.

The challenges and rewards of BBA’s activism are presented fairly by filmmaker Derek Doneen, without being manipulative or melodramatic, as befitting Satyarthi’s own can-do attitude. BBA’s work requires a great deal of bravery — one never knows if the police assigned to accompany them on raids have been bribed by traffickers — and Doneen and crew deserve credit for following the activists into potentially dangerous situations for the sake of documenting their work.

If there’s one complaint about The Price of Free, it’s the inconsistency of the English subtitles. Most of the banter and other background chatter like police radios isn’t subtitled at all. If multiple people are speaking at once, only one person’s dialogued is subbed. I know documentaries don’t have lavish budgets, but the film feels incomplete without full subs.

Even with over 150 million kids worldwide still engaged in child labor, The Price of Free and Kailash Satyarthi’s work with BBA give hope that this really is a problem we can tackle. If you’d like to get involved in the movement to end child labor, check out The Price of Free‘s website, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, or 100Million.org.

You can watch The Price of Free in its entirety below:

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Streaming Video News: May 8, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with two more additions to the catalog. The 2014 Bengali movie Teenkahon is now available for streaming, as is the 2013 Hindi film Siddharth, which I absolutely love. For everything else new on Amazon Prime (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: November 2, 2016

I updated my lists of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime and Bollywood movies on Netflix. Amazon recently removed the cricket documentary Beyond All Boundaries from its free streaming catalog. Netflix just added two documentaries to its offerings: 2014’s Walking with Wolves and 2015’s In Their Shoes, a film by Aurangzeb director Atul Sabharwal.

One Hindi film on Netflix is worth prioritizing before it expires. 2013’s Siddharth departs the catalog on November 7, 2016. Not only is it a wonderful, heartbreaking film, but it opened my eyes to the way we take money for granted in the movies. The characters in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil can gallivant all over Europe in private jets because they are filthy rich. What if you are dirt poor, and your son goes missing in a distant city? That’s the dilemma faced by the family in Siddharth. It’s really a movie worth your time.

Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Bollywood Box Office: February 27-March 1

With no new Hindi films in theaters to provide competition, Badlapur dominated the North American box office for a second weekend in a row. From February 27-March 1, 2015, Badlapur earned $86,959 from 58 theaters ($1,499 average). That brings its total earnings in the United States and Canada to $367,392.

In its third weekend in theaters, Roy took in $3,037 from seven theaters ($434 average), bringing its North American total to $240,765. Shamitabh closed out its four-week run with an additional $268 from two theaters ($138 average), bringing its total earnings to $299,071.

2013’s Siddharth is in the midst of a limited run in Canada. In two weeks, it has earned $5,331.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Streaming Video News: January 9, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two pieces of bad news. First, Kahaani is set to expire from the streaming service on January 16, 2015. This is one of my favorite movies, and I find new details to love whenever I watch it. I’ve shared this film with people who don’t normally watch Hindi films to rave reviews. If you haven’t seen this great thriller before, check it out this weekend. If you have, watch it again to be reminded of how wonderful Vidya Balan is.

The other piece of bad news is that Daawat-e-Ishq is now available for streaming. This film squandered all of its potential and wound up on my list of the ten worst Bollywood films of 2014.

Better options from 2014 on Netflix include Ankhon Dekhi and Siddharth, both of which made my Top Ten List.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2014

2014 delivered a bunch of well-crafted films aimed at a savvy audience. Here are my ten best of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Films with budgets large and small took aim at social issues affecting ordinary citizens.  Siddharth powerfully explores poverty through the experience of a man searching for his missing child. The divisive intersection of politics and religion is skewered both by indies — Filmistaan and Dekh Tamasha Dekh — and the year’s biggest hit, PK.

Other films put creative spins on existing formulas. Highway turns a typical damsel-in-distress scenario into a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Dedh Ishqiya features a budding romance between a middle-aged couple, played by Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Naseeruddin Shah. I thought I’d seen enough gangster movies for a lifetime until Kill Dil revitalized the genre in stylish fashion.

Ankhon Dekhi challenges the notion that a movie has to be “about” a specific theme, instead presenting itself as a movie to simply experience.

My sentimental favorite film of 2014 is Queen. Watching Kangana Ranuat as charming small-town girl Rani gallivanting about Europe on her solo honeymoon is a joyous experience. It’s a movie I look forward to revisiting.

Yet one movie stood out from the rest because of its riveting story and immaculate direction. The best Hindi movie of 2014 is Haider.

I’m a huge fan of director Vishal Bhardwaj, and even with high expectations going in, I was still blown away by Haider. It’s gorgeous, thanks both to the natural beauty of Kashmir and Bhardwaj’s use of a bold color palette against a snowy backdrop. Kudos to cinematographer Pankaj Kumar as well.

Bhardwaj — who also wrote the film’s music — maximizes the potential for song as a narrative device in a sequence in which Haider (a modern Hamlet, played by Shahid Kapoor) publicly implicates his uncle in his father’s disappearance. The scene is much more effective as a musical performance than it would have been as a speech.

Bhardwaj also deserves credit for placing his version of Hamlet in such a politically and emotionally charged environment. Notes at the end of the movie highlight how ongoing tension between India and Pakistan have cut off a beautiful place like Kashmir from the rest of the world, to the detriment of regular people simply trying to exist. Placing a 400-year-old story within the context of a modern conflict emphasizes that quelling the dangerous temptations that come with political ambition is a problem humans haven’t yet solved. Haider is a magnificent piece of visual storytelling.

Best Bollywood Movies of 2014

    1. Haider — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    2. Queen — Buy/rent at Amazon
    3. Siddharth — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    4. Ankhon Dekhi — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    5. Highway — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    6. Dedh Ishqiya — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    7. PK — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    8. Dekh Tamasha Dekh — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    9. Kill Dil — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
    10. Filmistaan — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Siddharth (2013)

Siddharth4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Practicalities are often omitted from movies in order to save time. Characters never end a phone call with, “Good-bye.” A character jumps in a car and says, “Just drive,” and the driver does it without demanding to know where they are going.

Siddharth isn’t like that. It takes a familiar setup — a child goes missing, and the parents have to find him — and delves into how it would really play out for a family of limited means. Writer-director Richie Mehta paints a gripping and emotional picture by avoiding movie conveniences and emphasizing the details.

The title’s Siddharth (Irfan Khan) is a 12-year-old boy, son of Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang), a Delhi zipper repairman. The family is so desperate for money that Siddharth leaves school to work in a factory for a month, hopeful that his earnings will start a dowry fund for his little sister, Pinky (Khushi Mathur).

When Siddharth doesn’t return for Diwali as planned, Mahendra and Suman struggle to discover what happened to their son.

Wealthy movie dads like Mel Gibson’s character in Ransom or Liam Neeson’s in Taken can stop everything in order to search for their kids, but Mahendra doesn’t have that luxury. Bus tickets cost money that he doesn’t have, and that his friends and neighbors don’t have. While he’s searching for his son, who’s earning money to feed his wife and daughter?

That’s the difference between Siddharth and other missing child movies: the villain isn’t a person. The villain is poverty. If Mahendra had money, he could hire investigators and bribe informants and flit from place to place on a moment’s notice to look for Siddharth. If Mahendra had money, Siddharth wouldn’t have had to go to work in the first place.

Without a villain, the tension in Siddharth doesn’t feel acute. There’s no ticking clock. Yet there’s a growing sense of frustration that builds as the movie progresses. Mahendra and Suman calculate how many weeks it will take them to save the money for bus fare. The policewoman explains how hard it is to find a missing kid in a nation of a billion people without so much as a photograph of the boy. Mahendra asks every client if they’ve heard of a place call Dongri, his only lead to Siddharth’s whereabouts.

It’s a powerful illustration of how hard it is to live in poverty, particularly in a time of crisis. There’s no margin for error. Siddharth leaves because his family is broke, and it ends up costing them more than he would have made.

Mehta makes the audience’s frustration personal by introducing Siddharth with only a couple of seconds of screentime at the very start of the film. We don’t get a good enough look at him to join Mahendra in his search. Scanning crowd scenes is worthless, because every boy could be Siddharth.

Another fascinating thread within Siddharth is the impact education has on whole families. Pinky is more educated than either of her parents, and she’s only about six years old. She writes a letter for her illiterate mother, and she’s the only one in the house who can operate their cell phone. Upon learning that the phone has a camera, Mahendra asks Pinky how to use it so that he can take a photo of her, lest she go missing, too.

Siddharth reminded me of a terrific novel on a totally unrelated subject: The Martian by Andy Weir. Weir’s book presents in minute detail what life would be like for an astronaut left behind on Mars with virtually no resources. There are no aliens or space vampires in the book, just an endless series of ordinary events that could be fatal if one thing goes wrong. It’s fascinating.

Mehta’s film is no less fascinating. It allows the audience to come as close as they can to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and illustrates the frustrating, devastating consequences of poverty. Siddharth is a triumph of storytelling.

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Streaming Video News: November 8, 2014

I updated my list of Hindi movies streaming on Netflix to reflect one new addition to the catalog. Director Richie Mehta’s acclaimed 2013 drama Siddharth — which released in U.S. theaters in June — is now available for streaming.

Bollywood Box Office: August 22-24

For a second weekend, Singham Returns held on to the top spot among Bollywood movies showing in North America. From August 22-24, 2014, the Ajay Devgn action sequel earned $218,164 from 127 theaters ($1,718 average), bringing its total earnings to $1,085,328. That total ranks sixth among Hindi films in North America in 2014, about $170,000 shy of Jai Ho.

The strong performance by Singham Returns forced new release Mardaani into second place for the weekend. (To be fair, Mardaani played on a third fewer screens than Singham Returns.) According to Bollywood Hungama, Mardaani earned $168,997 from 86 theaters, an average of $1,965.

I’m optimistic about Mardaani‘s second weekend for a few reasons. The movie has a high user rating of 8.1 stars at IMDb. Monday is a national holiday in the United States (Labor Day). And this Friday’s new release, Raja Natwarlal, will likely open on fewer than a hundred screens. All those factors could help Mardaani retain a good chunk of its first weekend earnings.

Complete North American box office figures for Akshay Kumar’s Entertainment remain impossible to come by. Based on the $143,699 the movie has earned in Canada so far, Entertainment‘s three-week North American total is likely around $500,000.

Other Hindi movies showing in North America include:

  • Siddharth: Week 6; $2,491 from one theater; $59,808 total
  • Kick: Week 5; $2,041 from four theaters ($510 average); $2,402,677 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 26; $725 from two theaters ($363 average) ;$4,035,675 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama