The Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"OK girls", the 16th century teacher intones, "we know that 'Kama' means 'Love', and 'Sutra' means ... anyone?... anyone? Bueller?"
And that gives you a hint how oddly this movie was constructed. That teacher's speech would make perfect sense if they were English girls studying the Kama Sutra in a foreign language, but the filmmakers forgot that the characters are only speaking English so that we can understand it. But we know the convention - that they are really speaking in their native language. But of course, the whole scene makes no sense if they are speaking their native language

"OK, girls, we know that 'love' means 'love' - what does 'lessons' mean? Anyone? Anyone?"

That's the level of craftsmanship - they plumb forgot that the characters weren't really speaking English when they were speaking English.


Indira Varma shows the works in several scenes of sex and bathing. There is even a near-gyno shot from behind.

Sarita Choudhury is seen topless on her wedding night, and possibly shows her pubes later in a brief girl-girl encounter with Varma, although we never see her face in the second sex scene.

(For you anal-retentives: I'm aware that I oversimplified that point. The Kama Sutra was written a millennium before the film takes place, and I guess they might not have automatically known the meaning of the words, any more than we know the meaning of Chaucer's words. But the practice of translating the book while leaving the title untranslated has never been that common. Why do we even call it the Kama Sutra instead of Love Lessons? Most foreign titles are known by their English translations - The Libation Bearers, Remembrance of Things Past, Divorce: Italian Style, The Seventh Seal, etc. Rather than discuss the nuances of this translation practice, I skipped directly to the dumb-ass jokes.)

Y'know, I think this is the only movie I've ever seen where the nudity was necessary and integral to the project, but the plot was gratuitous. I mean it was really dumb to begin with, and it was left unresolved.

Excuse me, Miss Winslet, but would you do a movie with a plot? "Yes, I guess I would, if I really believed it was necessary to the nudity."

Which reminds me of Tom Waits' famous quote, that reality is only a crutch for people who are too weak to face drugs.

Back to our feature presentation. The plot:

It seems when the great Kamal died in the 16th century, his kingdom went to either Kamal Lights or Kamal Filters, and neither of them had the Turkish tobaccos or full-bodied flavor to rule the kingdom. Basically, all Kamal Lights wanted to do was eat good food, get laid and get high. Pretty much what any of us would do with absolute power.

But this made his people mad, because he ignored them and participated in debauchery, and didn't let them play. And it really kinda ticked his wife off, too, so she asked her dad to kick hubby's butt. Her dad was some kind of more powerful Cigarette than a Kamal Light, maybe a Viceroy or a Lucky Strike, and he invaded the kingdom.

Meanwhile in a parallel plot, two girls grew up like sisters, but one was a serving girl and the other was destined to be a queen. The royal one ended up married to Kamal Lights, but the serving girl ended up sleeping with him first, on the night before her friend's wedding to him. Because of this, she was shamed and had to run away to study the ways of love. Same thing happened to me at that age. Some time later the serving girl comes back, fully versed in love's mysteries, as the head courtesan for Kamal Lights. Wow, what are the chances? The royal chick can't seem to please her husband at all, so the fur really flies for a while.  Just when the two girls start to get along, the queen's dad finally gets around to that invasion, and the courtesan walks off into the sunset while the invading army rides in and the credits roll.

There is a feminist subtext about a woman not wanting to go from being her father's property to her husband's property, with never a moment of control over her own life. This is, of course, the sexual politics of the 20th century being force-fed back to 16th century feudal India.  Good stuff, eh?

Well, that's what it is supposed to be about but, frankly, the script needed a major overhaul. The concept was OK, but the actual script was amateurish.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, and a full screen 4:3 version

  • full-length commentary, some minor features.

If you read between the lines, here's what the move was really about:

There are two great looking Indian women. One of them gets completely naked, and we even get a peek at her most intimate areas. The other one shows some breast action and a headless bush. The photography is pretty, the costumes colorful, and the settings exotic and lavish. It ain't "Finnegan's Wake", me boyos. There is no depth. There is no truth.

But there is beauty. Just look at the pretty pictures and enjoy 'em.


Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996) borrows its title from the Kama Sutra by Vatsayana. This ancient book explains all of the mysteries of love, and, in part states that there is nothing wrong with casual sex, but that for sexual union to be transcendent, it must be between two people in love. Most modern versions only reproduce part of one chapter, which is a pictorial of sex positions and their description. This is a 16th century Indian love story, that has much to say about freedom, class differences, and who controls whom in relationships, but is amazing eye candy with full frontal nudity from both Sarita Choudhury and Indira Varma, and amazing costumes, sets, and cinematography.

Choudhury is a princess, and Varma, while a servant girl, is the same age as Choudhury, and is much like a playmate, except that she does not get the education, and is often reminded that she is the servant girl. For instance, she only gets hand me down clothes, and has to spy on classes like the Kama Sutra teachings. When Choudhury is to marry a king, and insults Varma, the servant seduces the king on his wedding night for revenge. When she is found out, she is exiled. Meanwhile, Choudhury is brutally deflowered by her new husband, which would be bad enough, but he calls out Varma's name as he cums. The new queen gets furious, and the king seeks his courtesans ... from then on.

Varma, meanwhile, meets a sculptor who takes her to an advanced love class with an ex chief courtesan and Kama Sutra teacher. She falls for the sculptor, who starts making every statue look like her. The king sees his work, recognizes Varma, locates her, and makes her his chief courtesan. Were it not for the fact that Varma really did love the sculptor, her revenge would now be perfect.

The film clearly shows that Varma, as a peasant, had much more freedom than the queen, and even after becoming the king's courtesan, still had more control over her life than the queen. She was also the happier of the two. The film also pointed out clearly that, even though a husband owned his wife, and a king owned his courtesans, the women yielded a lot of power over them. It was no accident that Varma was the only principal character who realized some measure of happiness.


The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: 2 stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.6
  • With their dollars ... small-time arthouse stats. $3 million budget, $4 million domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "As a period romance, it is sub-par, and not likely to be mistaken for a David Lean film. It has nothing to do with medieval India, is sloppily written, and is filled with characters with completely modern motivations. You have to view it as a fairy tale about an imaginary land rather than as a film about feudal India. As a softcore titillation film, however, it's a piece of classy erotica. You could argue that it is one of the very best exploitation films ever made. So, it's a D or a C+, depending on whether you're looking for truth, or beauty".  Tuna says, "Taken as a softcore, it is clearly a first rate bit of erotica, and therefore a C+. Either I am way off base with this film, or the themes didn't come through for most people, so, as a love story, it is probably a C-"

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