Screened as part of NZIFF 2007

Vanaja 2006

Directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli

The spirited 15-year-old daughter of a poor South Indian fisherman determines to master the high-caste Brahmin art of kuchipudi dance. Powerful, luscious and saturated with colour.

India / USA In English and Telagu with English subtitles
111 minutes

Director, Screenplay


Milton Kam


Robert Q. Lovett
Rajnesh Domalpalli


Mamatha Bhukya
Urmila Dammannagari
Karan Singh


Toronto 2006; Berlin 2007


Vanaja, the 15-year-old daughter of a poor South Indian fisherman, is mischievous, spirited and cheeky. She dreams of learning to sing and mastering the art of kuchipudi dance, usually reserved for high-caste Brahmins. When her father can no longer afford to keep her in school, she talks her way into the household of Mrs Rama Devi, a wealthy landlady, who hires her to work as a farmhand. Rama Devi's brittle, caustic and sharp-witted front belies a maternal kindness, and it isn't long before she gives Vanaja singing and dance lessons. An innocent flirtation with Rama Devi's son turns ugly when he forces himself onto her, though amazingly, her young spirit is never broken. Non-actor Mamatha Bhukya is captivating as Vanaja and this debut feature by Domalpalli is beautiful in all its luscious, saturated colour. Shot with a haunting melancholic wistfulness, Vanaja is a powerful and affecting tale of social inequality, gender roles and the power of the family in the highly traditional yet complex world of the Indian subcontinent.