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20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Set in rural South India, a place where social barriers are built stronger than fort walls, Vanaja explores the chasm that divides classes as a young girl struggles to come of age.

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.


Top 5 Foreign Films of 2007 "Beatuful and heart-touching film from India, represents a miracle of casting... Domalpalli tells his story with tender precision, and never an awkward moment" --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 20th Dec 2007.

"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

See all Editorial Reviews

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Mamatha Bhukya, Urmila Dammannagari, Ramachandriah Marikanti, Krishnamma Gundimalla, Karan Singh
  • Directors: Rajnesh Domalpalli
  • Format: Multiple Formats, NTSC, Widescreen, Dolby, Surround Sound, Subtitled
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Vanaja The Film, LLC
  • DVD Release Date: March 24, 2008
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0013K8LC0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,953 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Vanaja" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on May 2, 2008
Format: DVD
Lovers of foreign cinema will not want to miss this simple,yet moving story of a young girl from an inferior class who wants to make something of herself through dance. Music, dance, color all add to the splendor of this film, but what really makes it work is the strong performance of the lead character - a young girl who challenges her position in society by seeking out a great teacher of Indian classical dance. After some difficulty, she persuades the teacher to give her private lessons at no charge.

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.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sreeram Dhurjaty on July 22, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The movie is in Telugu with English subtitles and not in Hindi as a another reviewer suggests.

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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Brian E. Erland HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 18, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Note: Hindi with English subtitles.

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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ubalu on November 29, 2009
Format: DVD
Pretty bad show.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on September 18, 2009
Format: DVD
"Vanaja" is a Telugu movie (with English subtitles) which won a couple of film awards, most notably the Best First Feature award at the Berlin International Film Festival. The movie explores the life of a low-caste, impoverished young girl, 15-year-old Vanaja [Mamatha Bhukya] who lives with her fisherman father in a little village in Andhra Pradesh, India. The girl is bright, and eager to learn, but financial need necessitates her taking a job in the household of Rama Devi, a rich local landlady. Rama Devi is well-versed in the Indian dance form Kuchipudi, and when Vanaja shows an interest, the landlady agrees to instruct her. Things seem to go really well for Vanaja, as she matures into a competent dancer, until the landlady's son returns from the States.

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.
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