Kalpana (1948) to be Screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival!

Friday, April 27, 2012
"WHAT?!" That's what I said when I first heard the news this morning from commenter gaddeswarup and an online contact (thank you!).  It's true: Uday Shankar's 1948 film Kalpana (Imagination) will be screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Cannes Classics program.  The festival website has these notes about the film: "Restored by the World Cinema Foundation from a copy of the original negative preserved by the National Film Archive of India. With thanks to Shivendra Singh and family of Uday Shankar.  The print was restored by the Cinematheque of Bologna and the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory."  The Scorcese-chaired World Cinema Foundation doesn't have any information up yet about it or any other restored films for 2012.

I'm stunned by this news, frankly.  Richard at the Dances on the Footpath blog and I have both blogged about the film and the difficulty of seeing it.  When Richard first blogged about it here, he received a slew of stunning comments from people who had seen the film or even had a copy, and then he broke the exciting news that Martin Scorcese was restoring the film.  The film then made the #1 spot on my "holy grail" list post, where I discussed the feeling that something was fishy regarding Scorcese's supposed restoration of the "only copy" of the film given that so many other prints were clearly out there.  I began to doubt that the whole thing would ever materialize, especially when I talked to various online friends and read tidbits here and there that noted complicated issues within the Shankar family over ownership of the film. But given that the Cannes page notes "thanks" were given to the family of Uday Shankar, it appears that any issues within the family must have been cleared up!  I'm guessing that while there are many other prints out there floating around, they are probably either not in the best of quality or not in the complete form of the original theatrical release.  I'm hoping these are two things Scorcese resolved through his foundation's restoration of the film, because then their print will truly be the best copy out there!

This news is monumental because it has exponentially increased the chances of us common folk getting to see the film!  While I can't just whisk myself away to France next month to see it, I'm very curious if the film will get released on DVD or at least on legitimate online streaming sites.  MUBI.com is one such streaming site that looks promising; they currently feature a small group of Cannes film festival favorites that can be watched online, and they have a page for Kalpana (they call it by the English name Imagination) though it's not available to watch at this time...but maybe it will be in the future!  Can you imagine!  Watching Kalpana streaming at home! Dream come true. :)  And even if it doesn't get streamed online, there are sure to be small clips from it made public as part of Cannes coverage and publicity features. 

More Information on Kalpana

Over the past few months I've been able to track down some excellent articles mentioning or analyzing the film Kalpana, and I thought this would be a great time to note some of them.  One of the most interesting is Urmimala Sarkar Munsi's "Imag(in)ing the Nation: Uday Shankar's 'Kalpana'" (abstract here, and it is also part of the book Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India).  Regarding the announcement of Scorcese to restore the film, Munsi notes that the subsequent flurry of media interest "spells the beginning of a resurgence of interest in Shankar’s work in terms of its holistic contribution, his seemingly apolitical and often criticized understanding of the medium of art and, most importantly, his idea of nation and citizenship."

Until recently I had thought the film was mostly just a slew of pretty dance sequences with perhaps a mythological narrative.  But Kalpana is much more complex; Munsi gives this fascinating description:
"Shankar worked through his film text by choosing certain issues and developing his dance sequences (or mostly fitting his existing choreography) within them. The narrative worked on two levels in order to create the images of the ‘existing’ and the ‘imagined’/‘ideal’ nation. At the level of existing reality, the great tragedy of the Bengal famine, the transition from a feudal/agrarian to an industrial society with a different face of oppression of the ruling class, the emergence of an elite, moneyed class which had the power as well the voice of authority, carried the main thread of continuity of the storyline. This ‘real’ was juxtaposed with a constant and at times undistinguishable transference to the dream where the imagined ‘ideal', mythical, magical, or supernatural was woven in. This was where Shankar incorporated all his popular dance creations around mythical themes, not always caring about sequencing them in a relevant manner with the storyline. Here he also wove in his own idea of the imagined independent nation - addressing issues of land-man relationship, education and women’s emancipation, different phases of male-female relationships, the ideal structure of an institution for teaching art, patronage, and so on."  
Another fascinating article, "Honoring Uday Shankar" by Fernau Hall, gives a critical analysis of the film.  From the article:
"As a stage director and choreographer, Uday Shankar was a master: he regulated every detail of the performances with great care, the dancing was highly polished and disciplined, the curtain went up on time, and, in fact, the Uday Shankar performances set a new standard of theatre professionalism in modern India. In the film world, however, he was a total amateur; and he made his task hopelessly difficult by combining the roles of principal dancer and choreographer (in which he was expert) with those of actor, producer, director, scriptwriter, and supervising editor, even though he knew nothing about these highly skilled professions. 
Instead of playing safe and using a simply constructed script for Kalpana, Uday Shankar did the opposite: he devised an extremely complex structure, making use of many flashbacks and dream sequences. In fact the story was a thinly disguised autobiography, with Uday Shankar ("Udayan") trying to raise money to make the film Kalpana but in the end finding himself rudely rejected by the prospective backers.

In between the acted scenes there were countless dance sequences, some created for the film and some taking the form of fragments from Uday Shankar's stage pieces; there was also a sequence of Manipuri dancing arranged by Amobi Singh. Unfortunately, nearly all the dance sequences were so badly directed and edited that they appeared confused; some of the newly choreographed pieces were much closer in style to the banal, sentimental commercialized sequences common in Hindi films than to those presented by Uday Shankar on stage, and the fragments of the stage pieces were much too short to make an impact, even if they had been well directed. And yet ... strangely enough there were two well-directed, well-photographed, and well-edited dance sequences that showed what a magnificent film Uday Shankar could have achieved if he had worked in the same way throughout the film, making good use of his intelligence, imagination, and flair for technology. Then his idealism, his love of India, his longing to see a resurgent India, and his hatred for the degradation he saw around him would have been preserved for posterity. As it was, Kalpana - with all its flaws - stood out boldly among the other Indian films of the day…"
"One of Shankar's main reasons for making Kalpana was to raise money to keep Almora going, but commercially the film was a flop. Almora was never revived, and he made no more films."
Last, Susheela Mishra writes in her book Some Dancers of India,
"When I saw Kalpana soon after its release, I had enjoyed identifying snippets from his various dance-items, ballets, autobiographical episodes in Almora and so on.  But recently when I saw it again on a projector (courtesy: Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi), I agreed fully with the detached assessment given by his friend in a recent article in The Illustrated Weekly, December 15, 1990, "As for Shankar's dances which sparked the idea of this film, there just are not any to rave about.  All he has bestowed are measly snatches and snippets which do justice neither to his own dance nor to his gift as a choreographer.  An opportunity truly lost, for there is no film-record of Shankar's work anywhere else either." 
 I'm dying to see this film!  Who's going to Cannes and will smuggle me in their suitcase? ;)

3 comments:

  1. Here is some news about other restored films that will be shown
    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-2012-jaws-once-a-316978

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    Replies
    1. Interesting - the article says Jaws will be "screened in 4K." Had no idea what that was - apparently it's a new resolution, much higher than "HD"! Wow, I am out of the loop. Now, if only Kalpana could be magically turned into 4K! ;)

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