Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1997): Directed by Mira Nair, Starring Sarita Choudhury

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love again demonstrates that Mira Nair has a sharp eye for composition and color. On-location shooting, lushly lensed by Declan Quinn, gives the picture an exotic pull, but it also reaffirms Nair’s recurrent problem–lack of attention to narrative credibility or coherence.

Princess Tara and her servant Maya grow up together, but as adults, Tara (Sarita Choudhury) keeps Maya (Indira Varma) in her place. In revenge for her humiliation, Maya seduces local king Jai on the eve of his marriage to Tara. Branded a whore, Maya is forced to wander around until she is rescued by a sculptor. After a brief affair, he lets her go, and she decides to become an artist by studying the Kama Sutra with the court’s former courtesan.

The explicit sex was toned down by Trimark, which released the movie without an MPAA rating. With its spectacular locales, lavish costumes, lush score and beautiful stars, Kama Sutra is sensual rather than erotic. Nair and co-writer Helena Kriel overlay a feminist sensibility on what’s basically campy material.

Disguised as a story of female empowerment, the film fails as softcore fantasy as well as melodrama about sexual politics in India of the 16th century. The modern notion of empowerment through sex, combined with contrived plotting, eroded the logic of the historic narrative.