Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli
India/USA, 2007, 112 minutes
Winner — Best Debut Film, 2007 Berlin International Film Festival
In India it is considered prestigious to be a patron of the arts, and for a household to have its own dancer in residence. When 14-year-old Vanaja is told by a fortune teller that she will be a great dancer, she presses her alcoholic father to get her a job with the local landowner, Rama Devi, who was once herself a great dancer. Her spunk and persistence touches the landlady's heart, and soon Vanaja becomes her prize pupil.
But no matter how talented or smart Vanaja may be, she is still a low-caste servant, and when Rama Devi's son rapes and impregnates her, there is little sympathy or outrage to be found. Vanaja must negotiate a path for herself, and be strong.
Filmed in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Vanaja is also a feast for the eyes. The all amateur cast's performance is remarkable and Mamatha Bhukya, who plays Vanaja, had to learn Kuchipudi dance for her role. Those sequences are mesmerizing, as they show a thematic progression from the dancer as lover to dancer as warrior, mirroring the interior life of Vanaja herself.
“A film that touches the heartstrings as it brings home the cruel class distinctions that poison Indian society, Vanaja is more than a children’s film, despite revolving around a central character of 14. Its social message, linked to the story of a poor farm girl who aspires to be a dancer, never feels forced, and the moral issues it depicts are realistically complex.” - Deborah Young, Variety
Purchase the Vanaja DVD from Amazon.
Both broadcasts followed by Peter Scarlet’s interview with director Rajnesh Domapalli.
Link TV's CINEMONDO is a nationally broadcast, ground breaking world cinema series hosted and co-curated by Peter Scarlet, Artistic Director, Tribeca Film Festival (2003-2008), now Executive Director of the Middle East International Film Festival. CINEMONDO brings international cinema with great artistic, cultural and political value to the living rooms of Link TV’s American audiences.