{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Vanaja is the story of 15 years old eponymous heroine, who due to her desire to learn dancing starts to work in the household of rich land lady, becomes enamored by landlady's America-returned son, who, after few misgivings, rapes her, which is as much a punishment, as it is a token of his male and caste supremacy over Vanaja. The film is better than I expected it to be. With all its flaws, its is not devoid of any merit, and that should be highlighted. An attack on caste system and a cry for position of women in society, Vanaya is not altogether stereotypical or simple minded, but it is definitely weak in its melodrama at times, may be because of the oft-used situations (specially the ones with Vanaja and her father) or the guiding background music. The best part of the film is that it improves at it progresses, and there are at least two strong points in the film. One comes early on. When landlady's son arrives, Vanaja, partially burdened from the charm of the his status and partially attraction to the opposite sex, first sets eyes on him. It dismantles two things which are celebrated in Indian films as a rural legend, one that the innocent village belle never ever has any sexual feelings, and more importantly the man from outside is a pervert casanova. So when Shekher rapes her, its is not at all a sexual act, but it is an act of aggression and supremacy, and also Vanaja is not shown at fault for being more free with her sexuality than she is supposed to be. In an excellent scene, she gets the shit out of Rambubu -the postboy, while little Yadigiri threatens them both. The second good thing is the end. Its a semi-fantasy. Vanaja is promised something by the land lady and her son, which we are told wont happen in future, its a false promise. Also, since we know more of Vanaja now, we can assume that she too has the knowledge that it is a false promise but she understands that at the moment this false promise seems a best compromise. Since the film does not end where Vanaja is in "safe" arms of Rambabu or Shekher or in the protection of Landlady with her son in her lap, or with a weeping face with the question "who will marry me now", or as a weeping victim whose child is taken away from her or a tale where little Vanaja wins the big battle - it seems a nice end, slightly comforting that she is back to childhood, but not sugary or melodramatic. The dances sequences are quite good, but my only point is about the composition and camerawork during dance sequences. In the last dance sequence, Mahishasur Mardini, the director was busy capturing the angry closeups of Vanaja as a metaphor of her rage, which is not only a big cliche for those who have seen such Durga dances of rage, but its uncinematic and too guiding. In dance sequences (and in some other sequences) what one needs is compositional camerawork, not narrative a camerawork, wide angles, long shots, not the emotional closeups. Also when it comes to locales, dances and culture, director need not show off, but relax because there is always a danger that it all becomes a export of exotica from a far off land.

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