After seeing this movie again in New York recently and noticing that it was going to be available on DVD, I ordered it immediately through Amazon.com and decided to send the following comments, which were posted in the "customer reviews" section:
1. The plot. The Nobel Prize winner, Hermann Hesse, wrote Siddhartha in 1922. It is a novel about Eastern spirituality (many Indian scholars consider it as one of the few successful examples of Indian philosophy presented by a Western author). Siddhartha is one of the names given to the Buddha himself. The novel narrates the pilgrimage of the son of a Brahmin, his struggle to find his own destiny; his friendship with Govinda (his "shadow"); his encounters with many different people: the Samanas (the ascetics that practice self-denial); Kamala (a courtesan who claims that she can teach and provide love as an art); Kamasawami (a rich merchant who becomes his boss); and Vasudeva... - note Vasudeva is another name given to Krishna, the teacher/driver of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita).
2. The Movie. In 1972, Conrad Rooks (an almost unknown movie director who made "Chappaqua" in 1966) came out with a 94-minute movie transcription of Hesse's novel. He engaged Sven Nykvist (the famous Swedish cinematographer of Igmar Bergman) and a mainly Indian cast, including Shashi Kapoor (Siddhartha), Simi Garewal (Kamala), Romesh Sharma (Govinda) and Zul Vellani (Vasudeva). The beautiful music was composed by Hemanta Mukherjee (I hope the soundtrack will be available soon). It will be particularly enjoyable for those who have read the book. In many of the scenes the synergism produced by the photography, the music and the acting is superb. And with few exceptions, the movie is a good transcription of the book. The book and the movie became part of the "cult culture" of the West coast of the early seventies, but it never got the attention of the general public. With a condescending tone, Leonard Maltin refers to the movie as "too arty, but on-location photography ... is often dazzling".
This is much smoother but less interesting than Conrad Rooks' other earlier and more cultish film, his drug autobiography `Chappaqua' (1966), which has cameos by Allen Ginzburg, William Burroughs, and jazzman Ornette Coleman in it. The trouble is `Siddhartha,' beautiful as it is, is a simplification of a simplification, and a spiritual quest isn't something you necessarily understand better through lush visuals, though unquestionably some of Sven Nykvist's watery landscapes with trees are unforgettable, the color is deep and rich, the music is pleasing, and the principals are awfully good looking people. Not surprisingly the high point cinematically is the sequence showing erotic encounters between the handsome lapsed sadhu, Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor), and the lovely courtesan, Kamala. Simi Garewal, who plays Kamala, is a gorgeous creature whose lovely eyes, long aristocratic nose, and pouty lips remind one of the all-time arch teaser and sexy sophisticate of English films, Joan Greenwood. But Ms. Greenwood never was got up in the kind of exquisite gilded see-through gear Simi wears in her scenes with Shashi Kapoor. She's something to look at.
When his buddy Govinda decides earlier to follow the Buddha, Siddhartha leaves Govinda bereft by deciding to go off on his own lone search, without a guru. It seems that the point is you must pursue your quest on your own. But Siddhartha's splitting with Govinda seems somewhat meaningless since at the end of the movie, Siddhartha has joined up with the peaceful boatman he met years earlier toward the end of his sadhu period, and he winds up spouting the boatman's words of wisdom: live in the present, stop seeking, don't worry, be happy, and watch the river. The Buddha apparently hasn't helped Govinda all that much either, since he meets Siddhartha again and also needs to be taught the boatman's simple doctrines. One can't help thinking they'd both have done better staying with the Buddha, who did, after all, found one of the world's great religions.
It's rather amusing that during the two men's youthful sadhu period, when they're on the road with a group of penniless holy men, `meditation' is represented as singing rhythmically and passing a bong. My picture of this activity was different, but `Chappaqua' shows how obsessed with and involved in drugs Conrad Rooks was.
This is a lovely, but empty and ultimately not very cinematic film. Sven Nykvist's photography is at the service of a vision so generalized (Siddhartha is a universal type, not an individual), that too often the images look like something out of `National Geographic' with mise-en-scène by Bollywood. The scenes are not as exotic as those Pasolini created for his `Arabian Nights' (1974), nor are Rooks' depictions of Indian rural life ever remotely as real as Satyajit Ray's in the `Apu Trilogy.' For a trippier film version of Hermann Hesse, see Fred Haines' `Steppenwolf,' which came two years after `Siddhartha,' in 1974. For a more original film depiction of a spiritual quest, see the story of G.I. Gurdjieff as done by Peter Brooks in `Meetings with Remarkable men' (1979).
This excellent work(1972) of an American director Conrad Rooks made me fall in love with India and its spirituality all over again.
I am so glad I could borrow and watch this movie from a public library (Dow library in Midland Michigan). The cassette claims that it has been recovered in 2002. This movie is based on a Nobel prize winner novel by Hermann Hesse. The music composed and sung by Hemant Kumar who is well known for singing Tagore(Nobel winner). The song tracks are Tagore's compositions. Very melodious.
The story is about a young Brahman of a priest family. The father is a sacred priest of a temple. Next to the temple flows river Ganges. Siddharth grows up with his close friend/follower. Their early childhood is shown to be bathing in the river and performing rituals in the temple. Being fed-up with his father's routine life, Siddharth decides to get out of the town and wishes to become a 'sadhu' and attain nirvana (eternal-peace). His father consents half-heartedly. The best friend Govinda follows him like a shadow. During their journey they both come under the influence of many accomplished sadhus and a Guru. Inspite of serving the Guru, Siddharth is not satisfied and does not feel even being close to attaining nirvana. In the meantime Govind influenced by Buddha himself, joins Buddhism leaving Siddharth alone with his path. The main aspiration of Siddharth is to achieve nirvana without a teacher. He claims why do we need teachers to attain nirvana, a seemingly conflicting belief to Hinduism, which preaches without a Guru its impossible to attain eternal peace. Hinduism is esoteric and abstract. The conflicting facts are not conflicting at all..As Hinduism goes far and teaches that one is the God himself(or herself)..Aham Brahmasmi. At one stage a soul out-stands or out performs the teacher.
So he continues his wandering. In the meantime gets attracted to the pleasure gardens of a beautiful, soulful,courtesan by name Kamala. Siddharth wants to learn the art of love from her. She induces him into materialistic world. He learns all worldly business in order to gain the love of Kamala. Kamala, true to herself, teaches him all he wants. Eventually he gets tired of all of it and leaves that place to become a ferry man. During that time he learns a lot of philosophy from the river. Kamala who now has a son from Siddharth, gets bitten by a snake and dies in the arms of Siddharth. Siddharth tries to bring up his son but the son turns out to be defiant and so on and so forth...From the comment I learned that the ferryman who taught him about truth was none other than Budha himself.
The passionate scene between Shashi Kapoor and Simmy Grewal heats up the screen..I never had imagined that in the best hands of director and photographer, Shashi Kapoor could be so sizzling sensuous. I always find him boring and cold in almost all his movies..
The conversation between Kamala and Siddharth is very touching. After sharing a very passionate, artistic love making, both of them settle to think that they do not love each other. What a disappointment. Two people in true love, sometimes are unable to make passionate love due to situations and two people who after all share passionate physical love are not in love..what an irony of life..The consummation of love (passion + spiritual + commitment) happens only in imaginations ??? I hope not.
For Siddharth, the journey of spirituality is reverse (seem to happen to many people)..Its from "vairagya" (renunciation) to "bhoga" (materialistic luxury) and back again..Some simple men and women who follow simple philosophy and travel from bhoga to yoga and to nirvana(eternal peace), seem to be doing it right...However, there is nothing right and nothing wrong in this journey...Like a meandering river, we all trace(carve) different paths, suitable to our mind and our body. Also, the "chakras" control our actions at different points of time and determine at one point of time what is predominant for us.
The significance of ferryman is not an old concept. In Kannada literature(16th century ?), Purundara Dasa calls God as "ambiga" (ferryman)..God is the ferryman who helps cross this river called life and the ferry is our own body with nine holes. What an artist he must have been to help cross the river in such a perforated boat...:-) Coincidentally I remember this funny incident from Ramayana..Rama requesting a ferryman(kevat in Hindi) to help him cross river Ganga. Before Kevat lets him in his boat, runs and gets a pitcher of water to wash Rama's feet off..When asked why, he narrates the reason which seems so hilarious...He says, if I let you get in my boat with the dust of your feet, there is a fear that the boat may turn into a maid just like stone turning into Ahilya...thats why had to wash your feet..cause I have no other means of living ('main gareeb naiya meri naari naa hoya pade')...:-)
I saw the movie Siddhartha some time ago because when I first saw the title, I recognized it as a philosophical work from my college days when I study Hesse's work from my philosophy class.
It is a great film: I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the book by Hermann Hesse. As a philosophy major, the philosophical underlinings in the movie are most appropriate. It is by all accounts, a true Hesse's commentary on the meaning of life and man's condition on earth.
I especially liked the music although the lyrics were foreign to me. I wish I could get a translation of the songs that made the film even more enjoyable.