Warning: Film Spoilers!
This film, by far, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Definitely the best Indian film that I’ve ever seen.
Admittedly, the transition is a bit hard to follow, and the love triangle may not be what people like to see in a film that was meant to be porn but was changed because Indian authorities watched over it. Instead, we have one of the best feminist films ever made in all of human history.
Maya, the main heroine, is a deeply complex, conflicted, and believable character who goes through changes in opinions as she grows up. Banished by her village due to having sex with the King before he was to wed the princess right before the wedding vows, she meets and falls in love with an artisan who rebukes her because she inhibits his professional career. Despite making love, Jai Kumar feels that she can only be a hindrance and make him lose focus.
Maya disavows love, after being burned twice, first by realizing the King was a philanderer who acquires servant women to have sex with, and then by being rebuked by Jai despite both of them being mutually in love. Maya decides, since she already lives with the stigma of being a whore and cannot find work by any other means, to become a professional courtesan. She learns, from her sex instructor, to exude her femininity, to not shy away from sexualization, and to take control of her life by controlling men’s hearts. What’s most interesting is the dichotomy between fate as a result of her stigma and her choice to improve her own living standards by making the best of a bad scenario. In the beginning, Maya shows independence by rebuking an ugly Prince’s sexual advances and even when banished, she stays firm in her belief that she can create her own destiny. It expresses one of the subtle characteristics of Hinduism and of Indra’s affirmation about life; if fate exists, if all is predisposed, then even in this setting, we exert influence and create our own destiny.
How can this paradox make sense? By making the best of our bad situations. Maya’s name has negative connotations of being a wicked goddess of illusion, however, in this scenario it expresses the fact that Maya seems to pierce through the illusions of finality in life itself.
By the end of the film, Maya saves the life of her friend Tara from committing suicide, but cannot prevent Jai’s death by orders of the King. Despite the supposed fatalism, everything in the film subtly points to “fate” being the result of our prior actions and inactions in life. Maya chose the life of a courtesan as a result of one youthful mistake, Jai chose to put his life in jeopardy to get back Maya after rebuking her love and making her believe that she would never have a genuine relationship; thus pushing her to decide to improve her own life without him, Tara chose to hide and ignore her problems up until the end when she finally confronts the King and points out that she doesn’t hate him because that would require a form of love, and the King despite having the best of everything, ultimately loses everything as a result of his lack of care for his own empire and subjects.
The final scene, with Maya leaving after Jai’s execution, shows her accepting the role that she’s made for herself and continuing on with her life despite regrets. It is the perfect ending to a great film.
Definitely a must-watch film. It doesn’t have any of that terrible CGI nonsense in modern Indian films. Quite possibly, the greatest Indian film ever made.