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Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love

Year: 1996
Production Co: Channel Four Films
Director: Mira Nair
Writer: Helena Kriel/Mira Nair/Wajida Tabassuh
Cast: Indira Varma, Sarita Choudhury, Naveen Andrews, Ramon Tikaram

For such buttoned down cultures like those in the East, I'm amazed at what sexy movies they can make. Along with Samsara , Kama Sutra is as romantic and beautiful as it is sensual (and sexual). It doesn't shy away form showing you beautiful naked people making love, and nor does it leer like a softcore porn film over it all without any emotional context.

The execution struck me as being a little bit amatuerish, but I'm not sure if writer/director Mira Nair just didn't have that much finesse back when this film was made or if she was using the traditional Bollywood style, where it seems finesse and subtlety aren't the order of the day.

It tells the story of two girls, princess and queen-in-waiting Tara, and Maya, a servant in her court and a close friend. The girls dance, play and watch as the grown concubines go about their business, marveling at the poise and beauty they see.

When the girls are themselves grown up (in the shape of the voluptuous Sarita Choudhury and the lissome Indira Varma), their lives take very different paths. The visiting noble from a neighbouring power who's going to take Tara to be his wife, Raj (Naveen Andrews) falls head over heels in love with Maya instead, taking her to bed the night before the wedding and making Tara a laughing stock as the wife of a husband obsessed with another woman.

After Tara throws Maya out of the court the latter goes into exile, finding her way to a school where a former Royal courtesan schools young women in the seductive arts. Once there she meets the handsome, virile sculptor Jai (Ramon Tikaram). The pair resist each other as long as they can but it's clear they're falling in love, and we're treated to the second beautifully composed and erotic sex scene.

But Maya's troubles are just beginning. Jai is scared of commitment (seems filmmakers' views on men are the same whether it's ancient India or a modern day rom-com), fearing he'll fixate too much on Maya's beauty when he should be admiring it from afar and letting it inspire his sculptures of her.

And Raj hasn't forgotten the glorious creature he deflowered instead of his own wife, and when he comes after her, he's a king used to getting what he wants.

Everyone in the film is resplendently beautiful, and it's a romantic fairy tale for adults. If you're not familiar with Indian film it's also a good place to start. In the West we're used to seeing this much naked flesh, whereas no matter how obsessed Bollywood films are about love, they're curiously chaste. Kama Sutra is the best of both.

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