Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli. August 2007, India. Unrated: 111 min.
The title character, a fifteen-year-old lower caste girl from South India, begins work for the local landlady in hopes to learn the art of Kuchipudi, a classic Indian dance. Throughout the movie, Vanaja’s dance moves reflect her reaction to events in her life. When she first begins dance practice after begging the landlady for lessons, her footwork is clumsy and embarrassing. When the landlady’s handsome twenty-something son returns from America, her face lights up and her dance quickens, expressing her excitement at the prospect of new love. After the son steals her innocence by taking her virginity without consent, her dance becomes slow and mournful while verges on bawling. Toward the end of the movie, her grim determination to keep her own illegitimate child shines through in her dance’s violent stabbing motions.
Despite some iffy acting from minor characters, its meaningful depth and technical uniqueness earns Vanaja three stars out of four.
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