Winner of over 15 international film awards including Best Debut Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival, VANAJA explores caste, gender, and sexuality in its fascinating story of a child’s coming of age in rural South India. When a soothsayer predicts that Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya), the 14-year-old daughter of a poor fisherman, will become a great dancer one day, she takes a job with the local landlady in hopes of learning Kuchipudi dance and alleviating her father’s mounting debt. The landlady, Mrs. Rama Devi, takes notice of the spirited girl and begins to guide her in the art of music and dance, a privilege usually reserved for high-caste Brahmins. Despite her social position, Vanaja excels in her training. But a flirtation with Rama Devi’s son Shekhar, recently returned from the US, escalates into a struggle when her natural intellect causes him public humiliation. Shekhar’s wealth, power and class give him an upper hand, but Vanaja’s toughness and irrepressible nature are not to be underestimated. Young Bhukya, who learned dancing to make the film, gives a standout performance of great charm as the title character. VANAJA is a colorfully shot debut that touches the heartstrings.
India| USA, 2006, In Telugu with English subtitles, 111 min, Not Rated, Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli