Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese is resurrecting a lost Indian classic by dancer Uday Shankar, reports Vishnupriya Sengupta
HE MOVES on the stage like a semi-divine being,” wrote James Joyce to his daughter about an Uday Shankar performance. And now, the legend is back in the news, with his cinematic masterwork Kalpana slated for restoration under Martin Scorsese’s direction.
Shankar’s only black-and-white venture on celluloid — produced in 1944 at a cost of Rs 22 lakh — the film, at one level, is a portrait of an artiste as a young dancer. At another, it depicts a fragmented India, on the verge of a million mutinies. Despite its autobiographical strain, what sets this production apart is its theme of national integration and religious tolerance.
Unfortunately, few have been privy to this classic — the rights to the film had been in limbo since Uday drifted away from his wife, dancer Amala Shankar, in his later years.
“I was pained to learn that my husband had simply gifted away everything including the master positive and duplicate of Kalpana to Anupama Das, a socalled student,” says the 90-year-old Amala, who played the film’s heroine. By the time she moved court in 1997 to reclaim the film’s print in “national interest”, Das had already sold it for a paltry Rs 5,000. Amala Shankar waged an 11-year legal battle before she finally won back its rights. Today, neither her calm demeanour nor modest flat bear traces of those turbulent years. Photographs of Buddha, Gandhi and Sathya Sai Baba eclipse those of her husband, although she is still evidently in love with him. “At the very end of his life, I’m sure he realised that nothing could ever come between us. I’m happy that Kalpana is being restored. This is divine redemption.”
Now, it’s time for its resurrection. Enter Scorsese: the Academy Awardwinning filmmaker and chairman of the World Cinema Foundation, an institute dedicated to the preservation and restoration of film classics, has taken on the task of restoring Kalpana’s print. With the restoration process already underway, Scorsese has also touched base with actor and dancer Mamata Shankar, Uday Shankar’s daughter. “People will actually be able to comprehend the film’s true import in present times,” she says.
Ever since sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, Mamata Shankar’s uncle, showed Scorsese the film four months ago, the director has been mulling over its restoration. Brick Lane actor Satish Kaushik met Scorsese at a film festival” in Doha last November and recalls, “Among the Indian films he’d watched, Scorsese felt Kalpana was particularly unique and worth restoring.”
This isn’t the first time that Scorsese has shown interest in a dance-oriented script however — he also directed the restoration of the 1948 British classic The Red Shoes, a film about the intersecting desires of a young dancer, an aspiring composer and an unrelenting ballet impresario.
“For seven months,” Amala Shankar remembers, “shooting was held at night from 8 pm to 2 am.” The hard work paid off and the film enjoyed a record 26-week run in Kolkata when it was released in February 1948. And now, with Scorsese resurrecting it, we can all look forward to reimagining Kalpana.