The Kama Sutra is famous in the West for showing various acrobatic sexual positions. But the book is so much more than these positions. It is about a book about a way of life and a philosophy that can lead to a deeper meaning of life. It also paints a lush picture of ancient India that has mostly gone away, leaving only their ancient temples and structures. Kama Sutra, the movie, tries hard to capture this time. But does it fully work?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you the plot. This movie is the lives of two women. One woman is a rich princess and the other is a daughter of a dead courtesan. The princess and the daughter of the courtesan grow up and follow two very different paths. The princess, despite being not as sexual or traditionally beautiful as her friend, gets engaged and marries the shah (which is the equivalent to a king). But the shah lusts after her friend and she seduces him on their wedding night. Because of this she is cast out of the palace and she wanders the countryside. While she is traveling, she meets a sculptor who marvels her figure. They develop an artist and model relationship while she stays in a boarding house of a Kama Sutra instructor. The relationship goes sour, so she decides to learn the Kama Sutra in order to become a palace courtesan. When she comes back to the palace, she becomes the main courtesan of the shah while he descends into opium and sex addiction. Meanwhile the sculptor comes changes his mind and chases after her. They restart their relationship and a love triangle forms.
Like I said before, this movie tries very hard. Mira Nair is known for her lush landscapes and she does not skimp here. Each actress has a plethora of ornate outfits. There are extended shots of beautiful Indian landscapes. But these images are empty without any exciting plot. Anything that happens in the movie is paced by long shots of just sex and pouty looks. The two lead girls show no charisma together nor with anyone else. They move around as animate mannequins. Thus the story never picks up steam and there are events in the film that make no sense. Like when the two girls make up towards the end of the story for reasons that only make sense in regards to the plot conventions but doesn’t make sense in regards to the feelings and the emotions of the characters.
I wish this is a good movie, because Mira Nair is a good director. She is a woman who understands Indian culture and is able to translate their stories and issues in a way that is unparalleled in this modern age. The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, and Salaam Bombay were all effective studies in what it means to be Indian. But this movie was nothing more than sexual exploitation of an ancient text and cultural heritage. I wish that I could spend time in this era because it was so incredibly interesting both aesthetically and socially. But Nair makes this era boring and flashy and I get too much of that out of modern culture.