Indian coming-of-ager overshadows America bildungsroman

Vanaja

on August 31, 2007 by Sara Schieron
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Since The Wonder Years began building a dam in the river of the bildungsroman, the sweet waters seem to be thinning, and it's clear that this trend is not just limited to America. The Indian coming-of-age story Vanaja looks at a few years in the life of a low-caste village fisherman. Sumptuously visual without being romantic or sentimental, Vanaja intelligently pits the social struggles of the Indian caste system against the beauties of adolescents.

Vanaja, the title character, is mesmerized by traditional dancers, and when her father decides she should leave school for a job, she asks to work at the house of the local gentry, a landlady who, in her days of glory, was an admired dancer. A clever girl, Vanaja charms her way into the lady's graces and is allowed to study dance. She becomes very successful, but the landlady's son resents her for her intelligence, and, from his repeated sexual punishments, she becomes pregnant. Her father wants to auction the child, which Vanaja dutifully concedes to, but she can't overcome the trauma of her losses and ultimately has to leave the social order she grew up in to enter the world alone.

Vanaja's sense of liberation, which is so natural to her, makes the system she struggles in seem all the more contrived and detrimental, while her resilience makes her plight seem that much more tragic. Unlike the social pains that overwhelm the American coming-of-age drama (or comedy), Vanaja endures some legitimate horrors, and her “happy ending” is bittersweet but altogether more painful than any loss or longings Kevin Arnold in his bourgeois contexts could ever withstand.
Distributor: Emerging Pictures
Cast: Mamatha Bhukya, Urmila Dammannagari and Marikanti Ramachandriah
Director/Screenwriter: Rajnesh Domalpalli
Producer: Latha R. Domalapalli
Genre: Drama; Telugu-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: August 31, 2007 NY, September 14 LA
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