Dance great Uday Shankar’s directorial Kalpana (1948) was screened at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival on Monday. Uday Shankar’s daughters Mamata Shankar and Tanusree Shankar were present at the screening along with Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, who restored the film.
“My father was on a vacation with Guru Dutt and my mother Amala Shankar when he conceived of the film,” said Mamata Shankar.
Uday Shankar reportedly asked Amala all of a sudden what the Bengali term for imagination was, and when she replied “Kalpana,” he asked Guru Dutt to write the word down.
“Guru Dutt wrote the word down with an underline and that is how the process of making the film started,” Mamata Shankar said. “Baba had been musing about directing a film for a long time.”
Mamata Shankar emphasized on the contemporaneity of the film, saying, “Whatever we get to see in the newspapers these days is all present in the film that was made so many years ago. It feels like we are watching a film made in the present time. Kalpana was much ahead of its time. I feel the importance of the film now is even more.”
According to her, the film was edited multiple times and had several versions. “The version that is going to be shown here might appear a bit longish,” said the dancer and actress.
She also revealed that 48 dancers were called from Kerala for the film. They were Kathakali artistes, who performed Manipuri dance as well.
The film marked the debut of several yesteryear stars like Padmini, famed for Mera Naam Joker (1970), Usha Kiron, the South Indian actress Saraswati and Lalita. Noted artistes such as the sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and celebrated Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant also worked for the film.
Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese had first expressed his wish to restore the film to Uday Shankar’s younger brother and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar some years ago before the task eventually fell to Dungarpur.
“Kaka [Ravi Shankar] spoke to Scorsese and Shivendraji then joined them and they started restoring the film. I am extremely grateful to Shivendraji for this initiative for which the film is being screened here today,” Mamata Shankar said.
According to Tanusree Shankar, “Kalpana represents what India, humanism and compassion is about. Every time I watch the film I have the same interpretation of it that there is no sort of discrimination in it. It is unbelievable how farsighted he was to convey so many strong messages only through dance so many years back.”
The actress added that she had a fabulous experience of walking the red carpet at the premiere of the restored film at Cannes in 2012. “Momo [Mamata] and I were behind Ma, but it was so amazing to see Ma walk the red carpet with Shivendraji. She was the youngest actress there to walk the red carpet [Amala Shankar was 92 at the time]. It [watching the film again] will be a memorable trip for all of us,” she said.