Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor) is a young Brahmin in India who has been brought up by his father and his father's fellow monks to follow the path of the Buddha, but as he confides to his best friend Govinda (Romesh Sharma), all their teachings just aren't fulfilling him anymore, if they ever did. He needs his father's blessings to go his own way but is sceptical he will be granted them; however, on asking for permission for finding his personal truth away from the monks, he is surprised that his father agrees. Now he embarks in a journey to enlightenment, a literal journey on foot across India, and a metaphorical journey that will be boosted by what he learns from the various people he encounters on that particular path...
Siddhartha was one paperback guaranteed to have been found at any respectable hippy's crash pad during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Although author Herman Hesse had written it in the twenties, way back near the start of the twentieth century, it had really caught on with the beatniks who studied its pages and saw in it a meaning of life for them to plot a course for their lives by, as it seemed written in simple enough terms to render the explanations of how to reject the physical realm in favour of the self-actualising spiritual one to have the goal of the lead character eminently attainable. Whether it was or not, well, take that up with the beats and hippies, but you don't hear much about Hesse now.
His Steppenwolf had been adapted for the screen, and around the same point Siddhartha made it as well, directed by one of the most curious characters of counterculture filmmaking, Conrad Rooks. Unfortunately for his aficionados, his directing career began with Chappaqua and ended with this, only two movies when to all appearances he could have helmed many more with some skill - his work looked the part, at least. He even had the blessing of Hesse's son to make this, as they had met as Rooks dried out in an exclusive Swiss clinic, having spent much of his Avon cosmetics fortune (he was an heir) on drugs and alcohol, so creating a motion picture was a better use of those millions than going the heavily self-destructive route he had before.
That also tied in nicely with the story's message of keeping to the philosophy expounded in Hesse's book, about eschewing the corporeal, but finding the beauty and worth in the simplest of acts to do the most for your inner life, thereby reaching a nirvana that some search for all their lives and never grasp. It would be a pretty disappointing yarn if Hesse's protagonist had gone through all this - the narrative unfolds over years of his consciousness - and not reached his nirvana, so there was a predictability to watching that was assuaged by the attractive photography of Sven Nykvist who Rooks had employed, but it did come across like a slick advert for the way of life espoused rather than a work that truly tapped into the profound. It was less a religious revelation and more along the lines of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, both the book and its movie spin-off, neatly packaged enlightenment for those who did not have time to devote decades to their spiritual education. If that was enough for you, then dive in. Appropriately Indian music by Hermanta Mukherjee.