Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love | Chicago Reader

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love

This aggressively sexual melodrama is as efficiently erotic as a mediocre romance novel. Set in the 16th century, the story centers on Maya (Indira Varma), who's studying the Kama Sutra, and its teachings supposedly inform her reductive philosophy of sexual politics. As she blows through her life manipulating other people, Maya feels justified because she lacks wealth and social position. With no apparent motivation, the movie forces us to empathize with, then patronize Tara (Sarita Choudhury), a princess Maya serves but also repeatedly humiliates, and it treats two male characters with equal fickleness. A sex-addicted king (Naveen Andrews) allows his obsession with Maya, who becomes his courtesan, to hasten the downfall of his kingdom, but the king's behavior is relevant to the drama only when it affects Maya. A sculptor (Ramon Tikaram) who mistakes his passion for Maya for ambivalence about his work is given more depth, but the movie discourages us from identifying with him. Maya's relationship to sex is a thinly veiled relationship to power, which might be interesting if she weren't totally inscrutable. And the sex scenes that are the movie's soul are both emphatically voluptuous and devoid of subtext—as if director and cowriter Mira Nair only wanted to turn her audience on. Like Maya, Nair seems to be using her power to arouse simply to prove she can. Male filmmakers have been doing this forever, so maybe it's a feminist act whenever a female filmmaker does it.

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