Sarita Choudhury and Indira Varma in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996)


(director/writer: Mira Nair; screenwriter: Helena Kriel; cinematographer: Declan Quinn; editor: Kristina Boden; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Indira Varma (Maya), Sarita Choudhury (Tara), Ramon Tikaram (Jai), Naveen Andrews (Raj Singh, The King), Rekha (Rasa Devi), Ranjit Chowdhry (Baboo), Harish Patel (Doctor Mani); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mira Nair, Lydia Dean Pilcher; Trimark Pictures; 1996-India, shot in English)

It all seemed inane.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kama Sutra is a lusciously filmed spectacle; it’s directed by Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay!”). In 16th-century India, two virgins who are equally ill-humored — the servant girl Maya (Varma) and the Princess Tara (Choudhury) — are childhood friends even though separated by caste and destined for different lives. Tara is marked to marry the lustful King Raj Singh (Naveen Andrews). On the wedding night the voluptuous Maya seduces Raj, thereby betraying her friend’s trust.

Maya is labeled a whore and as a punishment is expelled from the royal grounds. But she finds refuge with a former courtesan Rasa Devi (Rekha) who taught both her and Tara about the art of love, the Kama Sutra (a manual of lessons in love drawn up in the fourth century). Obviously, the lower-class Maya was the better pupil.

Sex is envisioned as a means of gaining spiritual enlightenment. The lessons learned are about the intimacies, power, and pleasures of sex. Maya graduates and finds a love mate when working as a model for the narcissistic sculptor Jai (Tikaram), who when not brooding is prone to say such foolish things as “My work has a power even I can’t explain.” Though Tara won out in marrying the opium smoking and courtesan chasing king, he yearns for Maya and wishes to draw her into his harem.

The underlying message is far from the liberal one expected from such a work, as it seems to be that in order to keep your man satisfied and not straying — a woman should get some good moves in bed. Hardly something women’s lib would focus on.

Exotic settings and showing the pubic hair of a beautiful woman, will not get this film over the hump of a dull storyline, cardboard characters talking in clichés, and its overall reactionary take on relationships. It all seemed inane and poorly acted.