India has a long history of banning movies it deems to be 'too bold', and one of the earliest examples of it is the 1972 Indo-American drama, Siddhartha.
Starring Simi Garewal and Shashi Kapoor in lead roles, the film was based on Hermann Hesse's 1922 novel of the same name and won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice film festival.
It even opened to great reviews by the American audience, and yet, the CBFC banned the movie.
Because at a time when two flowers were used to show kissing in Indian movies, Siddhartha had a nude scene by Simi Garewal, reported to be the first nude scene in Bollywood history.
The film chronicled the journey of a man, who, in an attempt to live life more meaningfully, traverses through from materialism to asceticism. But the various experiences in his journey, from sensual pleasure to deprivation to guilt and revulsion, lead him to realize that true happiness can only come from self.
Simi played a courtesan named Kamala in the film, who, "teaches the protagonist the pleasure of life and love". As Simi shared, "In the olden day, that's what courtesans did!"
The scene that caused uproar had Shashi Kapoor kneel down in front of a nude Simi Garewal.
The film has gone on to acquire cult status, and in 2002, was even restored and re-released in US Theaters. In fact, to date, the book and the movie continue to be part of the curriculum of certain US universities.
But at the time of its release, the entire focus was on how Simi appeared in the movie in the nude. Garewal though was no stranger to controversies surrounding her work and held her own. After all, she courted controversies for her scenes in the 1970 drama, Mera Naam Joker as well.
When Conrad Rooks approached me to play Kamala, I was intrigued, but a little hesitant because of the love scenes that were inherent to the role. It took some time to conjure the mind set and to believe it was Kamala, not Simi, who was rendering them. As expected, the love scenes did become controversial; but I felt I had been true to my role.
- Simi Garewal on Siddhartha
From 1972 to 2021, a lot has changed with the way movies are made and viewed,. And yet, CBFC's proclivity for banning things and people's tendency to object only seems to be on a rise.
The film is currently not available on any major streaming platforms.