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Dance of Enticement

Kama Sutra
Turban Cowboy: Ramon Tikarum enjoys the hands-on approach of pearl-bedecked courtesan Indira Varma

The lessons of love are tempered with a cautionary message in Mira Nair's 'Kama Sutra'

By Richard von Busack

THE NEW FILM by director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) may be an inevitable disappointment--the title, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, arouses strong expectations. Certainly the actors are very erotic. The cast includes Sarita Choudhury (director/producer Mira Nair's goddesslike discovery) and Naveen Andrews, the Sikh bomb expert of The English Patient. Pretty newcomer Indira Varma plays Maya, an innocent girl who learns the mystic arts of the sacred Hindi text.


The official site for film, and the Sir Richard Burton translation is downloadable (management will assume no responsibility for thrown-out backs).


"A servant is a master in disguise" is the film's epigraph. We're in India in the Mogul era of the 1500s. Maya, a servant, is in a rivalry with her friend Tara (Choudhury), enraged that she has to live off of the other's hand-me-down saris. But Maya gets her revenge when she seduces Tara's husband, the king (Andrews), on their wedding night. "Now you will live with my castoffs for the rest of your life," she boasts to Tara. Exiled for her prank, Maya ends up learning the arts of being a courtesan, the Dance of Enticement and the positions of the Kama Sutra from Rasa Devi (Rekha), a lynx-eyed professor of the sacred rituals.

Andrews, the best actor of the lot, is fun as a very spoiled and highhanded ruler, brought low through his own overindulgence and his unwillingness to yield to his wife that which is her due. Nair brings the camera down to the expressive feet of the actors, miming their passion, and presents the stunning sight of Choudhury in a bikini made out of pearls. Declan Quinn's photography is gorgeous--wildly efflorescent, as befits a fevered tale. (No virgins are actually thrown into a volcano, but a man who fails to learn the importance of commitment is tossed to the elephants.) Nair talks commendably about retrieving the ancient to liberate the modern, of experiencing total sexual passion. Still, the other half of the equation is "but not to excess." Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love has a Victorian thread running through it: the fine old notion that decadence leads to moral collapse. Here again, the elderly movie team of sex and morality are yoked together like a pair of mules.

Kama Sutra (R; 120 min.), directed by Mira Nair, written by Nair and Helena Kriel, photographed by Declan Quinn and starring Sarita Choudhury and Naveen Andrews.

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From the March 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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