For decades, modern-dance pioneer Uday Shankar’s one and only film, the radical Kalpana, was locked away in the National Film Archive of India because of a copyright dispute. “A dance fantasy in celluloid,” as the posters for the film on its 1948 release boldly stated, it features hyperstylized cinematography, spectacular dance sequences, and a layered, melodramatic narrative that warns the Indian film industry and the newly independent nation itself of the perils of pursuing commerce over culture. Kalpana should have been an inspirational classic of postcolonial Indian cinema for generations of artists, academics, filmmakers, dancers, and cinephiles. But this was not to be. Needless to say, such erasures forever alter history, and it is only over seventy years later that we can discover in Kalpana a truly modern cinematic form, created by an artist who was well ahead of his time, and a manifesto for a secular, democratic-socialist India that could have been.
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