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Kalpana is a dramatic dance fantasy, about the story of a young dancer and his dream of setting up a dance academy.
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Beautiful and wildly imaginative
This film is essentially a musical, and I know pretty much nothing about Indian music and dance, so I can't offer any kind of expert critique of the technical aspects of those elements of this film, but I can say that I found the music and dance in this film wonderfully entertaining and absolutely compelling. The dance performances are terrifically creative and dramatic and the dancers one and are are highly skilled and remarkably athletic as the best dancers always are.
The story is pretty standard stuff of the "Let's put on a show" variety, but the real pleasure for the audience here is in the music and dance, of which there's plenty.
Also of note are the special effects which are primitive but great fun.
Delightful, experimental, bold early Indian musical by Ravi Shankar's brother
This was the only film directed by Uday Shankar (brother, as Scorsdse tells his on the Criterion disc, of Ravi),and it's the kind of production where one can possibly get the sense this man had never directed before - or acted, or written - but that's the thrilling part about it.
I don't think most who come to this would think to compare it to Citizen Kane, but hear me out that there is a basis of compatison: like Welles, Shankar doesn't know (or maybe he does and just doesn't give a damn and throws caution to the wind to risk) about the conventions of Cinema, so what we get here does include a narrative, but it's more about an entertainer wanting to thrill and excitement us. And, in the process in this instance, to get some to think about the rampant abuse of power and how art can redeem a culture and people (especially driven by women dancing their asses off beautifully).
Now, the comparison to Kane should probably end with the basic Thrill for a New Director to Have Fun with the Provebial Train-Set of Filmmaking, as this is not much character driven or out to give us lines of dialog for actors to chew on (again like Welles was want to do then). Kalpana is a (quasi? Not much quasi about it) autobiography through Phantasmagoria of Shankar as he rises from a childhood of poverty and abuse to become connected and lead a dancing group, and by actively refuting the Power Elite and speaking against how little is cared for or given to artists (its one of the more memorable scenes without dance or singing that stands out her, where he tells off the rich),one man gives him a donation and through that he and his troupe take off. But there's ups and downs, sometimes with the women in his life like the fiery Uma who loves Udayan so. And will the Cultural Center run out of money? Maybe its time for the tried and true Save the Rec Center move! (I'm not kidding that's like the last 45 minutes of this).
What I mean by making such a grandiose comparison at the jump is how much visual invention Shankar and his team put into many sequences here. He's using many sets rather obviously, to where it becomes about the staging and we can find fascination in how dances and what appear to be reenactments of ritual dances and moves that it takes on a spiritual dimension at times (is it dance as prayer? Prayer to something that is beyond my cultural knowledge, not that that means I can't see there's something deeper going on, like a dance created and perfected to something beyond regular existence itself). Other times, Shankar dazzles with super-impositions, optical effects, special shots that combine two bodies into one shot as one hand will be moving around while a face or body moves in another part of the frame. Any time there's a dream, or he moves the camera into a fantasy space, ::chef's kiss::
A lot of the shots of dancing may be more basic as to simply show performers full body, but when the dancing is so joyful and alluring it's hard to complain. This is probably the earliest Indian musical I've seen, and one or two of the numbers have dated a bit over the past 75 or so years (mostly the numbers where one of the women is singing about devotion to Udayan or other). And as I'm sure Shankar didn't know whether he'd make another film or what would come after, he may have put everything he wanted to do in a film in this one go. I'd rather see that than something that just lays there, and it has... a Lot on its mind.
If one takes in many of the lyrics, it's not something that would appeal squarely to men, on the contrary its sumptuously pro feminine, and politically it even questions the activists of the time ("Gandhi? He just gives speeches!" I more or less saw in the subtitles which... wow man). It's a celebration, but also a critique; about love and betrayal and jealousy, and a call to action, and, during one very bog set piece the company puts on (a good 2 hours into the run time) it's unabashedly pro worker and farmer.
The performances are not too polished and Shankar himself sometimes has the energy in a room (I may delete this later) of like Jim Parsons like he is going go comic or dramatic or something but itll be BIG. And.... I'm glad I saw it once, nd you may be too. Who knows - maybe Shankar made something that, thanks to Criterion and Scorsese, could become someone's RRR. Exuberant, long, definitely not boring.