NEW DELHI, India -- "Kama Sutra," the lavishly filmed story of four lovers in the 16th century, is mostly about India.
But it's also about sex, and that's why almost no one in India has been able to see it.
The film, named for the ancient Indian sex manual, is bogged down in a dispute with the country's censors, who have deemed it too smutty for the people's good.
The fight has landed the movie's Indian-born director, Mira Nair, in an imbroglio with her own government, even as the film earns praise around the world as a sumptuous evocation of the nation's past.
After 14 months of haggling, "Kama Sutra" has yet to be screened in the country it is about.
The clash has illuminated the gulf between the India of old and new, between the self-styled guardians of the country's 4,000-year-old traditions and its avatars, often schooled and living in the West, of shock and change.
"We are proud of our culture and we want to save it," said Sushma Swaraj, a former minister of broadcasting and information and an advocate of strict censorship. "We are not prudes. There is a difference between obscenity and art."
Nair, 40, who directed "Mississippi Masala" and "The Perez Family," said her current movie draws on Indian traditions that are more tolerant of sex and sexuality.
She said she has tried to accommodate India's censors in every reasonable way by agreeing to some cuts in the film.
But, she said, they have asked for too much -- and more than what they ask of directors who live in India.
"The masses in India are shoveled gratuitous sex and violence -- nothing like what I have made," said Nair, who lives in South Africa.
"I think some of the censors just wanted to stop me."
The fate of "Kama Sutra" in India now rests with a Bombay judge.
Pub Date: 12/20/97