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KAMA SUTRA: A TALE OF LOVE

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 lives."

"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 ends."

"Raj Singh is a young febrile despot." Actor Naveen Andrews

"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 Nair.

"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."

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