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2008-11-04 10:10
What it's about:

Vanaja is the ambitious and impulsive 15-year-old daughter of a low caste fisherman, living in a rural village in South India. When her father can no longer afford to send her to school, Vanaja asks the local landlady (who she once saw performing the traditional dance of Kuchipudi) to employee her as a farmhand in the hopes that her dreams of learning to dance may be fulfilled. And it isn't long before the landlady takes a liking to the free spirited child and teaches her to dance. But when the landlady's handsome son returns from America, Vanaja is rendered weak at the knees by a schoolgirl crush, and he takes advantage of her weakness - raping and impregnating her. Now Vanaja must decide how to deal with the pressures of womanhood. What we thought of it:

A story beautifully told through a lens of marvellous poetics, Vanaja is a rare cinematic treasure. Director Rajnesh Domalpalli's first cinematic offering is a story of one girl's spirit that refuses to be crushed by life's dark cruelty. Vanaja is a young woman's dance with the pain of growing up and speaks to many universal themes such as classism, gender struggles, sexuality, morality and the line between respect for one's culture and one's self.

There's an authenticity that's rarely found in feature films. None of the actors are professional, many making their debut film appearances. Set in rural India, Vanaja also shows a side of Indian culture not usually revealed by the traditional Bollywood films. And it may interest some to know that the filmmaker could not find any Indian distributors for the film, despite its success at many international film festivals.

This story wasn't meant to be told in a book, by an elder, through music or in a poem. This story was made for film. It's unlike any film you've seen because it reaches in and turns your heart to play-dough while putting to shame much of the one-size-fits-all formulaic junk we so readily consume at cinemas. Vanaja is a heartfelt expression of the agony of being torn between childhood and womanhood and the fight against an inevitable ending.

- Natalie Sineke

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An exceptional cinematic gem, Vanaja tells the story of a high spirited young woman who, when confronted by the ugly face of reality, chooses to dance.

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