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Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya) is the 14 year-old daughter of a poor, low caste fisherman, struggling with dwindling catches and mounting debt. When a sooth-sayer predicts that she will be a great dancer one day, she goes to work in the house of the local landlady, Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari), in hopes of learning Kuchipudi dance while earning a keep.
Sexual chemistry is ignited between her and the landlady's son, but the situation suddenly turns ugly when Vanaja s superior intellect pits her against him in a public incident which ultimately humiliates him in front of his mother. Matters escalate, spiraling downwards and she is pitched into a tale of class, family and animus from which there is only one escape.
"Absolutely Timeless" - New York Times
"Auspicous Debut.. makes you eager for Domalpalli's next work" - Newsweek
"A film that touches the heartstrings" - Variety
"This is a movie exotic in look but recognizable in truth, the venture of a novice filmmaker very much ready for prime time" - LA Times
"If Domalpalli keeps this up, he might become something new for movies - a discreet combination of Satyajit Ray and Douglas Sirk" - Boston Globe
"Meet bright-eyed Vanaja.. possessed of a spirit as large and a smile as wide as the Indian Ocean" - --Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Sublime Direction... Wonder Filled Film" --San Francisco Chronicle, 5th October, 2007
Top Customer Reviews
Problems occur when she disobeys her teacher, and when she attracts the sexual interest of the teacher's son. Everything about this film feels authentic. It is neither a scathing comment on the plight of the poor or the caste system, nor an overly sentimentalized version of a person overcoming her social disabilities. Recommended.
I was fortunate to attend a private screening of this movie, in NYC, by the director Domalpalli. This movie is a true work of art reminiscent of early Satyajit Ray. Knowledge of the Telugu language enhances the experience that this movie conveys, even with excellent subtitles.
Using amateur actors Domalpalli has captured the strains of the caste and class system which are real in rural India. There are many poignant scenes in this movie where the aspirations of a young girl are pitted against the shackles of class and caste. Each character in this film adds to the rich dimensionality of emotions that are conveyed by this film This film has made very good use of color and sound in order to enhance the visual as well as auditory experience..
Unlike "bollywood" movies where there are characters that are only good or bad, each character in this movie exhibits both qualities, to a greater or lesser extent, and the depiction of these is a tribute to the Director's artistry.
I would have expected this film to be more popular especially, in India, where it has not been released. The lack of financial resources seems to have handicapped the producer and director in giving this film the much wider audience that it richly deserves. I also suspect that this movie is too close for comfort to some who would rather sweep issues, such as caste and class, under the rug.
To be honest, I have to admit to having mixed feelings about `Vanaya', the award winning Indian film from '07. Immediately enthralled at the beginning by the exotic and beautifully captured visuals of rural India, the mesmerizing Kuchipudi music and dancing and the innocent, genuine charm of its young star Mamatha Bhukya I couldn't wait for the story to unfold.
Unfortunately midway through the film the storyline abruptly changes course with the arrival of Shekhar (Karan Singh) a potential love interest and eventual male antagonist. This addition delegated the music and dance aspect of the film to a minor subplot substituting class struggle, caste system concerns and gender issues in its place. In my opinion in doing so they ultimately neglect the most appealing aspect of the story.
Please don't mistake this slight personal disappointment of mine to mean that this isn't an excellent film because it definitely is. I just feel it would have been more effective as an exploration of the cultural and spiritual roots of the dance rather than the social commentary it evolved into. Nevertheless 'Vanaja' is a quality film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Recommended viewing.
The writer/director mentions that this movie does not have an audience in India. It may be for two reasons. It is a depressing story, and the direction is generally done in poor/mediocre taste by an amateur (part of this movie was the director's thesis for a Film Degree). It has brought out the evils of the society, the caste system, and the arrogance of the some high caste members, which many Indians may not want to face.
The writer/director has done well with the script. The photography is very good. The rural setting is painstakingly paid attention to, and can be nostalgic for those who miss rural India.
The best part of the movie is the dances. Mamatha has done a superb job playing her part and dancing. She is very charming, and speaks well in her interview.
The story up to this point was a joy to watch, as the viewer gets to see an awkward young girl, who is also very poor, come into her own. The dance sequences have a certain air of innocence to them as Vanaja learns the movements and begins to compete. But the story, predictably [this being a social commentary film] takes a dark turn. Vanaja's sexual awakening is explored in brief, something that leads to an unwanted pregnancy, resulting in questions - will Vanaja abort or keep the baby? How will this impact her dancing? Does she have a future? Can she overcome the constraints imposed by the harsh, unforgiving caste system?
Mamatha Bhukya may appear too young to play a 15-year-old [she seems more like 12 or 13], but she plays her role to perfection. Her performance mesmerizes from the first scene till the last. There is an air of innocence and naivete about her, but also a shrewdness and street smartness that makes her wise up to the ways of the world very quickly.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Vanaja, this is a well thought and real life depiction of a young girls life. While that might be a bit less than positive, it is real. I enjoyed the honesty conveyed in the movie.Published 6 months ago by lucipearl
Unique and appealing vision of a fading part of Indian culture. Loved the choreography. Mamatha Bhukya is a delight to watch. Excellent directing. Worth owning.Published 10 months ago by Cherokee Sky
The characters are so vivid and pictures and colors are quite bright that it doesn't look like a debutante movie.Published 19 months ago by Sathish
Got a defective DVD so was unable to play it on any of 3?DVD players or the two computers I tried. I bought it on the promise in the marketing messages but the product was... Read morePublished on October 13, 2013 by Old Hand at Tech
For those who are taken by rhythms of India, it's daily cares and challenges, and for those who love dance, this movie astounds with a beauty natural and deep. Read morePublished on August 22, 2013 by charles vega
Enjoyed the dance pieces but the acting was subpar and inexperienced. I also didn't appreciate the demeaning portrayal of women and young girls in this movie, as if there was no... Read morePublished on February 19, 2013 by NWSteph83
Wish it was in Hindi, but, thank goodness for english subtitles. Vanaja has it's own flavour. I like it. Read morePublished on February 19, 2013 by Syra