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Kalpana goes to Cannes


Two kinds of fans were waiting for Kalpana's resurrection at Cannes on Thursday: dance lovers and cinephiles. The 1948 dance fantasia has some spectacular, experimental choreography by the great Uday Shankar. As for movie buffs, which other production can boast of Gemini Ganesan as the chief electrician and Guru Dutt as typist?
The movie which tanked at the box-office when it was released was way ahead of its times. Given Shankar's untamed storyline, the play between dreams and reality, his contempt for the box-office (reviewing it in 1948, Film India called it a "challenge to the film industry" ) and his unfamiliarity with moviedom - in retrospect the film seems to have been doomed from start. Three years in the making, budgeted at a whopping Rs 22 lakh, and with 80 dance sequences, it was a visual treat but it left the average film-goer cold.
But Kalpana had excited the imagination of film antiquarians and dance historians. "The movie didn't do well when it was first released in 1947 since it was much ahead of its time. But I'm sure it will be well accepted now since it deals with many issues that have acquired great relevance today. If you watch the movie, you'll realise how far-sighted my father (Uday Shankar) was, " says dancer actor Mamata Shankar who along with mother Amala - who co-starred in the film - and sister-in-law Tanushree Shankar are at Cannes for the occasion.
Kalpana's unbridled, defiant creativity had left both the late French filmmaker Robert Bresson and Martin Scorsese breathless when they first viewed it. Scorsese and his World Cinema Foundation, in fact, were responsible for putting the film through a six-month restoration process in Bologna.
The story of the film's rebirth can, in fact, be traced to an evening three years ago, when in a darkened auditorium at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in Pune, ad film director and movie buff Shivendra Singh Dungarpur watched Kalpana with three other friends at a paid-for exclusive screening. "The film blew my mind, " he said. "It was spectacular. But the state of the print left me really depressed. "
Martin Scorsese, it turned out, had been trying for years to get the film restored without any luck. The years preceding Shankar's death had been emotionally turbulent - the maestro had drifted away from his family and had willed all his priceless possessions, including the film, to a young student. It then got so entangled in ownership issues that extricating it for restoration needed months of red-tape busting.
"From the NFAI to the ministry of information and broadcasting to customs, it was a long fight to free the film up for its journey to Bologna, " says Singh. "Scorsese couldn't believe that we could actually get the film. "
The restored film that is being shown at Cannes is made from a dupe negative as all original negatives have been destroyed, says Singh. "In 1970, founding director of NFAI, P K Nair, in his search to save old Indian films, met Uday Shankar who finally gave him one of the surviving prints of the film. It was from this that Nair sir took a dupe negative to preserve, " says Singh.
The cans finally left India last September and the film was put back into shape by the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory at Bologna which has a reputation for dredging films from forgotten places. "The film's restoration is akin to its rebirth, " says Tanushree, wife of Shankar's late son Anand.
For Shankar, Kalpana was not just a celluloid showcase for his dance. It wove in his concerns about society, the economy and the state of arts - there is a sequence pitching man against machine for, instance. Film scholar Urmimala Sarkar Munsi in her paper 'Imag(in)ing the Nation: Uday Shankar's Kalpana' calls it "one of the first and only documents of parallel modernistic endeavours of that time".
Ironically, the film's storyline mirrored Shankar's distrust of Bollywood. His film begins with a meek scriptwriter who walks into a film producer's office with a script. Then comes the story of dancer Udayan. But as the film ends, we are back at the producer's office. The script is rejected - as though Shankar was preempting his own fate at the box-office. But when the film made its second debut on Thursday at a hall full of movie maniacs, art finally triumphed over commerce.


The dance movie is a tricky genre, but these classics hit the right note with their audience

Chandralekha |

This 1948 Tamil film, inspired by 'Kalpana', was shot at Gemini Studios in Chennai. Its most memorable sequence was the drum dance - the heroine is rescued from the clutches of the villain by the hero's soldiers who are hiding in gargantuan drums at a palace celebration

Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje |

V Shantaram's magnum opus starred the very young dance wizard Gopi Krishna opposite an untrained Sandhya. A maudlin love saga with a parallel story about a woman's quest to master classical dance, it won a national award and did very well commercially. Its songs, composed by Vasant Desai, are regarded as masterpieces.

Thilana Mohanambal |

A hugely entertaining Tamil film released in 1968, it starred the voluptuous Padmini as the arrogant dancer Mohanambal and Shivaji Ganeshan as an equally skilled nadaswaram master. Many sparks fly when they meet and match their arts;there is villainy, a scheming mother, endless twists and turns, and of course, great dance and music sequences - full value for money.

Sankarabharanam |

A well loved 1980 Telugu film about a higly principled Carnatic guru (J V Somayajulu) and the silent adoration of a dancer and courtesan's daughter, Manju Bhargavi. It was a whopping hit.

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