To kill a few hours before the departure of my train to Hampi, I decided to go and see an Indian movie. The one I picked, Kama Sutra, rather fortuitously turned out to be in English, and not only was it comprehensible, it was a serious film. This is perhaps because it wasn't a typical Indian film at all, but was produced in association with the British company Channel Four films.
Kama Sutra, as the title rather subtly implies, is a love story. Like most Indian cinema, the emphasis was more on the story part than the love part, though there was quite a bit of kissing and nudity, something you wouldn't find in a mainstream Hindi movie. I found myself transfixed; it oozed atmosphere and cinematic appeal, even if the story failed to follow up on the more intriguing sub-plots and instead stuck rather unimaginatively to the main story, a standard 'Love Hurts' tragedy set in 16th-century India.
But I didn't care about the plot, because the costumes, sets and attention to detail were so good at portraying ancient India that I almost felt I recognised the place. And perched pleasantly on top of this vivid imagery was one of the most beautiful actresses I've ever seen in a film, a British-born Indian called Indira Varma. I wasn't the only one who found her alluring either, as about 90 per cent of the audience was male, sitting there masticating on their pan while thinking of something far more assonant. The male actors were pretty damn perfect too, but of course I didn't notice that.
So despite the overwhelming popularity of Bollywood, Kama Sutra shows that India can produce westernised films, albeit in cahoots with western production companies. And the soundtrack was stunning, regardless of the complete lack of any song-and-dance routines; instrumental, Indian and perfect for the film, it was full of the sort of Indian music that I've liked since stumbling on Ravi Shankar back in my days as a hippy.
It was quite a relief after all the sing-along insanity of normal Indian film culture...