A mythical, imaginary meta-cinematographic film, a hymn to the power of art and dance.
The film was advertised as the “the first Indian all-dance picture” and is the only film by internationally-renowned dancer Uday Shankar. The storyline is the platform for dance, music, and spectacle. A meek storywriter approaches a formula-film producer with his script, but he’s brusquely turned down at the end. The story he narrates is the film Kalpana.
A great work of hallucinatory, homemade expressionism, and ecstatic beauty, Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (Imagination) is one of the enduring classics of Indian cinema. Shankar, the brother of the great Ravi Shankar, was one of the central figures in the history of Indian dance, fusing Indian classical forms with western techniques. In the late 30s, he established his own dance academy in the Himalayas, whose students included his brother Ravi and future filmmaker Guru Dutt (who worked as an assistant on Kalpana). After the closure of the academy in the early 40s, Shankar started preparations on his one and only film, many years in the making. Kalpana, with an autobiographical narrative of a dancer who dreams of establishing his own academy (starring Uday Shankar and his wife, the great Amala Shankar – the film also marks the debut of Padmini, who was 17 years old at the time), is one of the few real ‘dance films’ – in other words, a film that doesn’t just include dance sequences, but whose primary physical vocabulary is dance. A commercial failure when it was released, the film is now regarded, justifiably, as a creative peak in the history of independent Indian filmmaking.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Film Heritage Foundation
Courtesy of Cineteca – Il Cinema Ritrovato