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Slow and Tortuous

Something has obviously gone wrong in a movie when the viewers begin to lose sympathy for the main character. And something has gone horribly awry if the viewers begin to root for the character to fail or die or meet his/her comeuppance, especially when that character, as is the case in the Indian film Vanaja, a 15-year old girl who's been raped. It sounds unbearably harsh, but the title character, Vanaja, is so exasperating, bratty, spoiled and unlikable that you will find yourself completely unsympathetic to her plight.

Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya) is a "young woman" (this is in quotes because while the production notes state that the character is 15 and she even says as much in the film, she looks like she's 11 going on 12. You would think that if you were portraying a girl in sexual situations that you would try to cast a more mature looking actress or at least make her SEEM older, but not here. Here writer/director Rajnesh Domalpalli makes her look as young as possible causing many a scene in which you will feel the need to wash out your eyeballs) in rural South India who aspires to be a dancer of Kuchipudi after watching a local troupe perform. As the only child of a poor, alcoholic widower steeped in debts, this goal seems out of reach.

But when the time comes for her to leave school in order to find work, she finagles a position as a maid in a well-respected and renowned dancer's household, Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari who is excellent here), who for some reason tolerates her impudent and rude behavior. She manipulates Rama Devi into teaching her how to dance; and she obviously has a natural talent for it. Between disrespecting the head cook, getting lessons, dealing with her drunken father and sexually toying with the local postboy, things are moving along.

But then Rama Devi's slimy, disgusting 23-year old son Shekhar (Karan Singh) comes back from America. Vanaja and he hit it off immediately, which is disturbing to say the least as he looks older than 23 and she looks prepubescent. However, things get taken too far after Vanaja brashly yet inadvertently humiliates him in front of his mother and their whole staff. What follows is a storyline that defies all logic.

The writing is far-fetched as is the story. The acting is excellent if the goal was to make viewers despise practically the entire cast. While Vanaja runs a little less than two hours, the movie feels like it's eight hours long. There were times that watching the film felt akin to psychological torture. Save yourself.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars


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