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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Vanaja (review)

For his Columbia Film School master thesis, filmmaker Rajnesh Domalpalli returned to his hometown in rural southern Indian to shoot a story of quiet class warfare… a film he was determined to make with nonprofessional actors. The result? It won the Jury Prize for Best First Feature at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival (and numerous other festival awards around the world). Uniquely of this one place and time yet classically potent and universally recognizable, this is a film stunning both visually and emotionally, impressive as a first film and surely a harbinger of great things to come from Domalpalli. When 14-year-old Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya), the daughter of a local fisherman, goes to work in the manor of the local gentry, the Landlady (Urmila Dammannagari), she discovers a boss who is willing to be convinced to teach even a poor scullion girl such as herself the traditional dancing she yearns to perform, and Vanaja is happy… until the Landlady’s arrogant son returns home from America, and finds himself usurped in his mother’s affections (or so he believes). That he is an adult and Vanaja still a child deters him not, and he embarks on a campaign to ensure the girl knows her place. Their battle of wills — and more — is the crux around which this sly story takes place, and through which Vanaja crosses from childhood to womanhood, if at too early a point in her young life. Among the bonus material are multiple production featurettes, never-before-seen short films by Domalpalli, and more.

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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