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SIDDHARTA(director/writer/producer: Conrad Rooks; screenwriter: based on the novel by Hermann Hesse; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Willy Kemplen; music: Hemant Kumar; cast: Shashi Kapoor (Siddhartha), Simi Garewal (Kamala), Romesh Sharma (Govinda), Pincho Kapoor (Kamaswami), Zul Vellani (Vasudeva), Amrik Singh (Siddhartha’s father), Shanti Hiranand (Siddhartha’s mother), Kunal Kapoor (Siddhartha’s son); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producer: David McKibben; Milestone Film; 1972)
“Its visual beauty is compelling and its emotions are kindled from within, as it takes off from the source of its literary roots and becomes a pure cinematic experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stunning visual and musically pleasing telling of Hermann Hesse’s 1921 Nobel Prize-winning novel about a wealthy young Brahmin who discards his possessions and becomes a seeker of wisdom in India. Conrad Rooks (“Chappaqua“) directs/writes/produces the pic not necessarily for its dramatization but for the spiritual values to be learned about the intense journey for self-knowledge and to find the divine within. Sven Nykvist, best known for being Ingmar Bergman’s photographer, brings his immense skills to Siddharta and fills the screen with an assortment of rich colors and golden hues. He’s able to complement the enticingly leisure pace of the wandering ascetic story by fully capturing the shimmering beauty of Northern India and the magical spells this ancient land casts for its inhabitants. Some will be deeply affected by the film’s simple message and allure of overcoming one’s suffering through the destruction of craving and attachment to gain control of one’s self, while others will react cynically and eschew all the platitudes reached as unimportant chatter and the film as being pretentious. When the film first ran, it was largely dismissed by critics as a failed effort. The film released recently on DVD should appeal mostly to those who value the achievement of peace of mind over material conquests, and have an open mind about philosophies and religions that might differ from theirs and can imagine a long river being a metaphor for existence. Others, might find it appealing as an adventure story introducing them to the basics of Eastern philosophy, just as Hesse’s existential novel did to many in the West. The story blends a search for the meaning of life through Hinduism and Buddhism, and ends up with a universal message for finding wisdom rather than a strictly Buddhist one. Siddharta examines his own Hindu roots and feels stagnant following the religious practices of his father, and after meeting and rejecting a Hindu guru in his retreat to the forest he accidentally meets the Buddha. He thereby seeks out the teaching of his contemporary.

Siddharta (Shashi Kapoor) has been traveling with his dependent lifetime friend Govinda (Romesh Sharma), and leaves him with the Buddha when his friend believes he has found what he is looking for. But Siddharta senses that no teacher, no matter how great and he considers the Buddha the greatest teacher he has found, can replace his own experience. He therefore leaves the Buddha and continues to wander as a sadhu (a holy man who lives on the charity of others), as he tries to cut his own path. A poor but wise ferryman (Zul Vellani) takes him across the Ganges River and he is led to a world he has not known of sexual passion. Attracted in the city to the beauty of a courtesan named Kamala (Simi Garewal), he innocently professes his love for her. She finds his sincerity appealing but will not teach him how to make love until he earns money. She therefore introduces him to a wealthy merchant (Pincho Kapoor) who is skeptical of his business skills, but gives him a job after he observes he can read and write. Siddharta claims he knows how to think, to wait, and to fast, and therefore once the merchant teaches him the lessons needed to be a merchant he will prosper with good fortune. These skills do prove to be beneficial, as in time he achieves great wealth. But he eventually finds these material and sensual pleasures to be empty and discards them. He returns to the ferryman as an old man and gains nirvana as a poor ferryman studying the ways of the river. When Kamala dies, he takes his young son to live with him. But the son leaves him, as he feels stifled living in such isolation and poverty.

The lesson to be learned is that one must live in the now. Everything changes and nothing remains the same, and that everything returns; that all goals become obsessions and keep one attached, therefore one must stop searching and learn how to love–which is the highest quality in life. The simplest things are the hardest to achieve. To find such simplicity and tranquility might take many lifetimes, but by seeking an end to the temporary world one can live a life of quality.

This is an unusual pic, one that is poignant and inspirational for those who cherish enlightenment and serenity. It’s a gripping watch that combines hedonism and spirituality. Its visual beauty is compelling and its emotions are kindled from within, as it takes off from the source of its literary roots and becomes a pure cinematic experience.

REVIEWED ON 1/29/2003 GRADE: A –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”