From Mira Nair, the acclaimed director of Mississippi
Masala, Salaam Bombay and The Perez Family, comes a startling and
exotic tale examining the mysteries of adoration, devotion and
infatuation. Set against the vibrant tapestry and striking sounds
of sumptuously reproduced ancient India, Kama Sutra uncovers the
truths behind the highly revered, extremely controversial and
greatly misunderstood book of Indian lovemaking techniques.
Background notes are edited by Louise Keller.
"Kama Sutra deals very matter-of-factly with the
different kinds of sex and love that exist," explains
director Mira Nair about her fourth feature film. "Kama
Sutra says sex without love is completely natural, but don’t
get disappointed when the act itself is not exalted. However, sex
with love, with someone whom you want a more complete union, if
practised with the skills of ‘Kama Sutra’ can be holy,
transcendent and divine. In making Kama Sutra I wanted to make an
ancient-modern tale, a story which although set in the 16th
century is utterly modern in its telling, in its ideas, in its
feeling. I think to be utterly modern in my mind is to
incorporate the truly ancient."
"Kama Sutra says sex
without love is completely natural," Director Mira Nair
Research into the subject of the Kama Sutra planted a seed in
Nair’s mind and gave her ideas about directing an erotic
love story. She recalls, "The first screenplay ideas came
from a short story my husband Mahmood gave to me titled
Hand-me-downs by Waiida Tabassum. It was a four page diabolical
tale that became the basis of the first 15 minutes of Kama Sutra.
I brought this story - basically about a poor girl balancing the
humiliations she suffers at the hands of a rich girl by seducing
her husband, using sex as the great leveller of class - to my
friend Helena Kriel."
"Kama Sutra is about
having the courage to yield to love." Co-scripter Helena Kriel
What intrigued co-scripter Helena Kriel was "Crafting a
story that dealt with sex and spirituality within the same
plane." She continues, "Kama Sutra is about having the
courage to yield to love. Mira and I both wanted an audience to
take something away from the film that related to their own
"I like the fact the
story was from a female perspective" Producer Lydia Dean Pilcher
The magic that Nair and Kriel brought to their tale of love in
all its multi-faceted forms struck a chord with producer Lydia
Dean Pilcher. She says, "I like the fact the story was from
a female perspective - that’s rare in cinema today - and
that it explored the fundamental differences between men and
women in sexual terms."
With the screenplay finessed to her satisfaction, Mira Nair
began the extensive casting process to find suitable actors for
the four main leads: the noble Princess Tara, the graceful
servant Maya, the libidinious King Raj Singh, and the lowly court
sculptor, Jai Kumar.
"At first, I was
struck by how different Tara was to myself." Actress Sarita Choudhury
Sarita Choudhury, who made her first screen appearance in
Mississippi Masala was chosen to play Tara. She says: "At
first, I was struck by how different Tara was to myself. Then I
began to realise how being a princess is not the point -
she’s still a girl feeling the universal day to day emotions
we all do. So I went from "a literal translation of what a
princess actually is to a far more human approach." She
adds: "The key to Tara’s motivation for what she does
in my mind is simple. Tara has never learnt how to feel.
She’s only learnt how to suppress her emotions and keep them
bottled up. Maya wears her heart on her sleeve in many respects
and Tara just can’t do that."
Playing Raj Singh, the Casanova King with comes between Tara
and Maya’s friendship, is Naveen Andrews, who came to
prominence in The English Patient. "Raj Singh is a young
febrile despot. And like most despots he’s obsessed with the
limits of his own power and how they can manipulate other people.
He ultimately wants to have power over her (Maya) for his own
"Raj Singh is a young
febrile despot." Actor
"The main reason I wanted to play Jai was because
I’m always being cast as wicked, desperate and mean
characters." Says Ramon Tikaram. "And he’s none of
those." To prepare for his part, Tikaram read all he could
about sculpting. "I researched Rodin and Michelangelo, I
worked for weeks with a great Indian sculptor, Radha Krishnan,
and basically learnt that sculpting is not about turning a model
figure around - it’s about drawing from a river of memory
and personal experience. I also had to develop a sense of
anonymity which was an essential component of a sculptor’s
art at the time."
For the important central role of Maya, the servant girl
caught between two lovers, Nair picked newcomer Indira Varma, who
makes her screen debut. "It all happened so fast! I met Mira
and read the script. The same afternoon I did a screen test and I
was immediately told I had the part. I was a bit scared in truth
because I’d never done film work before or worked with
someone of Mira’s artistic calibre. But I decided to trust
Mira completely. As a director who started out as a documentary
filmmaker, I was sure she’d be able to coax a performance
out of someone like me who was so unused to the camera."
"I was sure she’d
be able to coax a performance out of someone like me who was
so unused to the camera." Actress Indira Varma
"The Kama Sutra itself was written by men for women to
get what they wanted, and it was important for Mira that the film
showed how the women at the time also used the texts to stick up
for themselves and get what they wanted in more subtle ways.
Sexuality always has been an incredibly strong currency for women
and it’s this power Kama Sutra revolves around." Says
"The past is the best
mirror to reflect the future." Director Mira Nair
Director Mira Nair says: "If Kama Sutra only works as a
museum piece on certain aspects of ancient Indian culture, then I
have completely failed. I absolutely see it as a contemporary
piece that says a lot about men and women today. The past is the
best mirror to reflect the future."