Thursday, July 17, 2014

Siddharth, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In "Siddharth," director Richie Mehta uses one family's crisis to paint a vivid portrait of contemporary India.

Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang) pounds the pavement of New Delhi each day to provide for his wife, son and daughter, using a megaphone to advertise his services as a chain-wallah, or fixer of zippers. With business quiet, he sends his son Siddharth by bus to work in a factory owned by his cousin's friend. When "Siddhu" fails to return as planned for a holiday, and neither the factory owner (who says he ran away) nor the police (who suggest he may have been kidnapped by organ or sex traffickers) can help, Mahendra, who doesn't even have a photo of his son, travels to Punjab and later to Mumbai in the dim hope of finding him. 

Mehta uses these missions to show us India in all its vibrant color, but this is not the film version of a photo essay in Departures. The reactions of those Mahendra comes into contact with vary from New York-esque indifference to empathetic commiseration to wistful resignation. At its core, "Siddharth" is the story of a father, ashamed of his inability to safeguard his family, struggling to maintain his dignity and sense of self. In one scene, Mahendra begs a street tough to let him ply his trade on the busy plaza the young man controls; the man tells him it'll cost about half of his weekly income, and makes him kneel before him and fix the zipper on his pants while he continues to wear them. 

Mehta could have cut fifteen minutes without sacrificing anything, but "Siddharth" is worth seeing, and don't arrive late; it's the very first shot that makes the movie resonate afterward.

I didn't intend to see "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" after hearing the apes talk in the trailer, but an over 90% fresh RT rating got me into the theater. This latest "Apes" picture is indeed watchable, but the conflict is so black and white, devoid of shading, that my attention flagged repeatedly over 130 minutes. There's a nice ape (Caesar) and a bad ape (Koba), and there's a nice human (Jason Clarke) and a bad human (Gary Oldman, wasted in a thumbnail sketch of a villain), and for much of the runtime they engage in the same sort of fistfights and gunfights we've seen in a million other movies. Matt Reeves' film doesn't come in for any extra credit just because some of the combatants are simian. What's missing is the terror of being face-to-face with these creatures (especially now that they've learned our language). What's sacrificed at the altar of an epic good-vs-evil battle is a richer and more nuanced relationship that's only hinted at toward the end.

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