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Kama Sutra: A tale of love
[DVD]

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I can think of countless less pleasurable ways to spend two hours at the movies than staring at the voluptuously entwined bodies of Mira Nair's libidinous fever dream, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. The film features an actress new to the screen, Indira Varma, who is an erotic spectacle all by herself. Varma has sculpted aristocratic features aquiline nose, almond eyes, thin lips that break into a twitch of a smile that don't prepare you for the luxurious fleshiness of her body. She's like an amorous sculpture come to life. That, of course, could also describe many a fashion model, but Varma, who radiates an almost preconscious joy in the power of her femininity, doesn't have the commodified blankness of today's multimillion-dollar cover girls. Kama Sutra is set in an Indian kingdom during the 16th century, and Nair's conceit is that these faraway characters, in their polite, decorous way, had a more potent sense of the erotic within the everyday than we, with all our frenzied sexual packaging, do.

The film takes its title from the famous fourth-century manual of erotic arts, but Kama Sutra isn't a movie about people having sex while standing on their heads. Instead, it has a mood of overripe sensuality a commingling of skin, sweat, lust, and love that hits you like opium. The four principal characters are pulled between extremes of bliss and despair. Varma, a servant girl, becomes the object of worship for two men a selfish young king (Naveen Andrews) who has married her former mistress (Sarita Choudhury), and a handsome sculptor (Ramon Tikaram) who becomes obsessed with her beauty, then her soul. Kama Sutra is a fairy tale that keeps melting into erotic reverie. Nair deliberately sacrifices dramatic verve to the flow of imagery. At times, the film feels fuzzy and ill-disciplined, yet I'm glad Nair had the daring to create this atmosphere; it's as if her storytelling had been drugged with hormones. Andrews, who was the saintly, long-haired Kip in The English Patient, displays a feral malevolence as the king, a man who, for all his oversexed drive, can possess but never love. And Ramon Tikaram, who plays this film's long-haired hunk, has a virility soulful enough to rival that of Antonio Banderas. Basking in the presence of performers like these and the amazing Indira Varma is a big part of what moviegoing is about.
Date Added: 11/10/2012 by Sarita Choudhury
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