In 2012, Amala visited the Cannes Festival 81 after Kalpana was first screened. She was 93 by then and graciously walked the red carpet. She was at the peak of her career when she performed in the film. She was ecstatic in the true sense!
Born as Amala Nandy in 1919 in Jessore (now in Bangladesh), she had no inkling of what lay in store for her and had not much idea about dancing till she visited Paris in 1930 with her father. He was a gold shop owner and was invited to represent the then undivided India at the International Colonial Exhibition in France to showcase the nation’s rich heritage of craftsmanship. It was in Paris that they met the Shankar family - Uday and his three brothers, including the youngest, Ravi, and their mother, Hemangini Devi.
Uday’s mother had a special liking for Amala and would dress her up in exquisite sarees. Uday who was in his thirties and by then, was already a celebrated name in the global dance fraternity. After studying at JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, he moved to London to pursue a course in painting at the Royal College of Art. There, he choreographed and staged two ballads titled A Hindu Wedding and Radha and Krishna and was noticed by Anna Pavlova Russian ballerina and later he performed with her in London and Paris. The performance was jaw dropping and the West got a taste of Indian talent. They were simply awe struck!
When in Paris, Uday Shankar asked Amala to try out few basic steps and guess what? She exacted every step, expression and movement mentored by him. Impressed by her moves, he asked his mom to convince Amala’s dad to allow her to tour Europe for two months.
Around that time, Rabindranath Tagore asked Uday Shankar to set up a dance academy. In 1938, he established Uday Shankar Centre for Dance. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, a family friend of the Nandy's, asked Amala’s father to send her to the academy. Rest is history. Once in Almora, she learned enormously from the other early trainees — Zohra Sehgal, her sister Uzra Butt, a teenage Guru Dutt and Ut Ali Akbar Khan.
Sadly, the Almora centre had to down its shutters the same year due to lack of funds. Uday Shankar went on to make Kalpana, a fantasy film and dance drama. The film was lost for years and was screened at Cannes in 2012.
Amala and Uday Shankar got married in 1942. After years of long association and dancing together in unison, Amala and Uday separated a few years before Shankar’s death in 1977. Amala kept teaching his dance style and experimenting with it and keeping the forms vivacious for several years. Amala had etched her place in the hall of fame and is highly regarded and remembered as an excellent dancer herself, whose presence in Kalpana and the cultural history of India will remain unforgettable forever.
A brilliant dancer herself disseminated Uday Shankar’s legacy - a blend of seven classical dance styles and folk dance forms of India - to a new generation of dancers. She passed away in her sleep on Friday at the age of 101. She used to address the four brothers — Uday, Rajendra, Debendra and Ravi — as Borda, Mejda, Sejda and Robu. Robu (Pt Ravi Shankar) was her friend
Kalpana is a 1948 Hindi film featuring a dance-drama, written and directed by Uday Shankar. It is his only film. The story revolves around a young dancer's dream of setting up a dance academy, a reflection of Shankar's own academy, which he founded at Almora. It starred Uday Shankar and his wife Amala as leads and 16-year-old actress Padmini, making her screen debut. It also marks Usha Kiran's debut film too. Kalpana was the first film to present an Indian classical dancer in the leading role, and was entirely shot as a dance ballet and a fantasy. It was shown at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI-Goa) (2008), as a part of the section "Treasures from NFAI" (National Film Archive of India), with other "rare gems" from the archives.