Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mamatha Bhukya, Urmila Dammannagari, Ramachandriah Marikanti, Krishnamma Gundimalla, Karan Singh, Bhavani Renukunta, Krishna Garlapati, Prabhu Garlapati, Ram Babu Tarra, Veeramma Sadula
Written by: Rajnesh Domalpalli
Directed by: Rajnesh Domalpalli
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Telugu with English subtitles
Running Time: 111
Date: 09/11/2006

Vanaja (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Flirty Dancing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Rajnesh Domalpalli turned in Vanaja as part of his master's thesis at Columbia University, but whether or not you know that going in, it's a very impressive debut. A large chunk of the film's success rests on the shoulders of its young star, Mamatha Bhukya, a teen with huge, expressive eyes and some intoxicating dance moves. She plays Vanaja, a villager who comes to work in the large house of the local landlady Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari), and convinces the older woman to teach her to dance. The landlady's strapping son Shekhar (Karan Singh) returns home, and Vanaja develops a crush on him -- that is, until he rapes her. She decides to have the baby, which brings out all kinds of issues regarding caste. At one point, a lotion is rubbed on the baby in hopes of lightening its skin. Despite this heavy drama, Domalpalli keeps things nimble with his smooth, snaking camera movements and with Bhukya's spunky performance and dancing; she provides the film its much-needed moments of beauty.

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