Richie Mehta is the Canadian director of Amal (winner of more than 30 international awards, nominated for six Genie Awards, and placed among the top ten Canadian films of the decade by Playback Magazine) and Siddharth, a moving film dealing with the issue of child-trafficking in India (Siddharth is recommended here in The Mindful Bard). Recently he took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about his work, his influences, and film as a catalyst for change. (See the first part of this interview here.)
“Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes.”
– Robert Altman
Why did you decide to present the tragic circumstance of child-trafficking from the perspective of the parents as opposed to that of the kidnapped child?
Because we’ve seen the child’s perspective in numerous films and documentaries. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating of course; it’s an issue that still needs to be addressed at a high level. But I met a parent who lost a son, and I wanted to share his story—his emotional resilience, his economic limitations, and ultimately, his ability to cope when faced with no choice. And I wanted to show how the world around him showed him compassion. That’s the world I know and have experienced, despite these tragedies. I have to believe people are like this, deep down.
Have you been rebuked for portraying an unfavourable aspect of Indian society today?
Actually, I haven’t. I was accused, by one Indian publication, of portraying Indians as being too nice! I’m proud of that. But generally people–even in India–who have seen this have come away experiencing people in a compassionate light. The main character is surrounded by friends and family who really care, and at worst, strangers who may be indifferent. But also keep in mind that I’m not showing people in abject poverty. They have a roof over their heads, so this is not the bottom of the economic ladder.
Do you have any thoughts on how film can be healing and a catalyst for change?
Of course. My favorite films have all done just that for me, and I think it’s a very powerful tool for emotional awakening as well as plugging in to people’s conscious and sub-conscious minds. If done right, films can become experiences for people, and as potent as any memories in their lives. That’s a very powerful tool.
Do you see Siddharth making enough waves in India to mobilise the country to stop child-trafficking?
I wish I could say yes. But there are so many issues to address there, and indeed, reflective of issues all over the world. To me it’s all about economics. Child traffickers would not do this if it was not profitable–one of them even told me so when I was researching this film. So it’s a higher level problem that must be addressed elsewhere, by people reading this article I hope. India, like so many other countries, would follow suit with positive change if the benchmark was set over here.
Are there any books, films, or albums that have deeply influenced your development as a filmmaker?
Many. Mostly films. Gandhi is one that really changed the course of my life. As did Shooting Dogs, as I mentioned earlier. And Michael Mann’s The Insider. All of these, and many others, have pointed me towards wanting to not only be a better person, but to be more aware of the effect we have on others and the world.
What are you working on now, and what’s your five-year plan?
I’m working on a project about policing in India. How difficult it is to maintain law and order, and why. It’s a very complex issue, relating to colonialism, to economics, and to maintaining a terrible status quo.
If you had an artist’s mission statement, what would it be?
I think it’s to wake people up. To make them realize their own potential and that they have the power to change things for themselves and for others. Blind complacency will prove destructive in every way for us.