Starring: Indira Varma, Sarita Choudhury, Naveen Andrews, Ramon Tikaram, Rekha
The version of the film being reviewed is unrated. For the record, the theatrical cut is rated R for Strong Erotic Sequences, Nudity and Some Violence
No, I haven't started reviewing dirty movies.
For those of you who come to my reviews from the links I post on Facebook (hazarding a guess, that's just about everyone), I'm sorry about the bait-and-switch. I was trying to be clever. In my defense, I considering warning people to stay away from this movie a public service. Yes, it's one of those movies.
"Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love" takes place in 16th century India. Maya (Varma) is one of the servants of Tara (Choudhury), who has just become queen to Raj Singh (Andrews). Tired of being a servant and getting hand-me-downs from Tara, Maya allows herself to be seduced by the philandering king. Branded a whore, she's thrown out of the palace and ends up homeless. She finds refuge with a sexy sculptor named Jai Kumar (Tikaram), with whom she falls in love. She's also instructed in the ways of love and sex by Rasa (Rekha). In no short order, she's called back to the palace to enter Raj's harem. But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...
This isn't a bad idea for a movie. Sexual politics have always been fertile ground for stories, and a great area to play in on film. Take a look at "Cruel Intentions" or "Basic Instinct," just to name two titles in a very active field. Or more recently, "50 Shades of Grey." Add in medieval intrigue, Indian culture, exotic locales, and some extravagantly staged sex scenes, and you've got yourself a winner.
Of course, that would imply that director Mira Nair had, at the very least, a semi-competent screenplay when she started filming. Suffice it to say, that was not the case. Maybe it was the trouble of filming on location. Knowing full well that Indian authorities would never let her film this movie on Indian soil, she and the cast and crew had to resort to bribes and improvising fake scenes to avoid detection. Judging by the final result, maybe Nair should have gone with that.
The acting is uniformly awful. Indira Varma shows a lot of daring playing the role of Maya (there is nothing that she doesn't show for the camera), but she has trouble with the dialogue. Playing the part of a put upon woman who learns to use her sexuality as a weapon escapes her meager talents. As the betrayed queen, Sarita Choudhury is marginally better, although like her co-star, her role is horribly written. Naveen Andrews plays Raj as the most self-absorbed king in a long time at the movies. In addition to being incredibly self-centered, he's a brute and a total pig. He's also horribly acted. The less said about Ramon Tikaram, the better. He's the Indian Fabio; he has long hair and pecs, but the statues he carves have more personality than he does. Only Bollywood legend Rekha impresses. As the Kama Sutra instructor, she steals every scene that she's in. Rasa is intelligent, worldly, clever, and encouraging, despite having little purpose other than explaining the Kama Sutra. She is far and away the only interesting character in the film. Nair would have been smarter to concentrate on her.
Mira Nair is not a hack director. She broke into the art house circuit in 1988 with "Salaam Bombay," which earned an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Film. She's been working steadily since then and was behind one of the most sensitive and emotionally rich movies about cultural assimilation, "The Namesake." That was all the more impressive considering that the source material, a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahirir, is largely free of dialogue.
But she has misfired with "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love." Badly. This is a misfire on all counts. The plot is a disaster, the acting is horrible, the film makes no sense (it appears to have been edited with a meat cleaver) and above all it's boring. Perhaps the worst sin is that for a movie that is about sex, it's not sexy. And for the record, this isn't about my sexual orientation, since there are plenty of sex scene between men and women that I find erotic (the portrait scene in "Titanic" is easily one of the sexiest in film history).
As exotic as it may be, you'd be better off cruising the internet than watching this turkey.