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Vanaja

Artful and satisfying, if overlong
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  September 24, 2007
3.0 3.0 Stars
inside_vanaja
VANAJA: Class conflict and coming of age in southern India.

Rajnesh Domalpalli’s artful and satisfying, if overlong, debut feature has a fairy-tale feel to it. Willowy 15-year-old Vanaja (a coy and charming Mamatha Bhukya) leaves school on the urgings of her loving, low-caste fisherman father and takes up residence with Rama Devi (a regal Urmila Dammannagari), a wealthy landlady. There, in exchange for chores, Rama Devi teaches Vanaja Kuchipudi dance. Unlike the typical Bollywood fare, the dance sequences here are more meditative than manic, featuring just Vanaja, not hundreds of leaping performers. The arrival of Rama Devi’s muscled older son, his violent treatment of Vanaja (“You look most beautiful when you wince in pain,” he says), and the subsequent class-crossing scandal hurtles the girl into adulthood. The colors — ocher and rose and royal blue — and the cast, unprofessional actors all, heighten the sensuality. It’s a rich portrait of class conflict and coming of age in southern India.
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