Thursday, July 26, 2012


Sometimes it is the small, independent foreign films that capture your heart and transport the moviegoer to another place and culture. Such is the case with the delightful Indian film Vanaja (2006) about a young beautiful tough-minded southern Telugu-speaking girl, daughter of a poor fisherman, who to fulfill her desire to learn classical folkdancing manages to obtain work with the local powerbroker, a strong-willed powerful upper-class former dancer Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari). Vanaja's brazeness and spunk wins over the older woman (as well as her loyal female servant), who teaches her the music and dance moves, but the young girl's world is turned upside down after she is raped by the mistress's son, an aspiring politician. Vanaja (played powerfully by Mamatha Bhukya) resists calls for an abortion, is hidden by the family of her best friend, has the young son, who is soon returned to his father's family in exchange for pecuniary recompense. However, Vanaja returns to the wealthy estate to be near her son and hope for a union with the son, but caste prevents this from occuring, and the wealthy woman eventually talks Vanaja into leaving (not long after she suffers the loss of her frequently drunken and debt-ridden, but loving, father). There are many insights into the culture, caste-system, and religious observances of the area, as well as commentary on class, wealth, status, and power relationships. Remarkably there seems to be a certain amount of flexibility within the system, and even the powerless have an ability to barter for what they want, in this unequal system. There is beautiful photography and wonderful dancing. Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli, as apparently part of a MFA thesis from Columbia University, the film is worth watching for no other reason than the great performance by Bhukya, but the whole cast is very good and it really is a film I would encourage viewers to try. Although I didn't grasp all aspects of the story, it probably had a stronger impact on Indian audiences. Still, I really liked it.

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