The centenary celebration of a living legend is indeed reason enough to make it ceremonious and memorable. Amala Shankar’s 100th birthday was one such reason to organise a massive public event in her honour at Udayan Kalakendra in Kasba. From June 27 to 30, the centre was buzzing with activity as personalities from dance, music, film fraternities thronged to pay tribute to Amala Shankar. A well paid tribute to a legendary dancer and distinguished painter – as every guest coming to Udayan Kalakendra had a glimpse of her early life, dance and family through photographs and also of her talent in painting, visible through her works that were on display. The exhibition featured photographs of Uday Shankar and Amala together in dance or in a casual mood, as well as ones from the family album with the Shankar brothers and children.
Vignettes from Amala’s youth were seen at the exhibition. She was born in 1919 in a beautiful and serene village in Jessore. She grew up to startle the Indian literary world by writing Beyond the Seven Seas when she was only 15 where she wrote about her first tour in with Uday Shankar in Europe and recounted her impression of the West. She met Uday Shankar when she went to Paris with her father. She was enchanted by the sheer grace and lyricism of creative dance. She joined his group as a student and realised the universal message of dance. She later returned to India but her heart was set on dancing. Amala later joined the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre in Almora in the Himalayas. Soon she became Uday Shankar’s dance partner and later his life partner.
The three-day tribute at Udayan Kalakendra also included screening of Uday Shankar’s film, Kalpana. This extraordinary work of art, produced in Gemini Studios in Madras, was made for an abominable sum of Rs 22 lakhs in 1948. Veteran journalist, Shankarlal Bhattacharya said about Uday Shankar, “His talent that was so vibrant on stage was transferred on screen in the film Kalpana. He has used simple props or sets, his use of lights and of course his inimitable style of dance. The film was made to propagate dance far and wide, which was only possible through the medium of cinema in those times.”