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B’day Special: Padmini “Versatile Dancer-Actress”

Padmini One Of  South India’s  Most Beautiful & Talented Actresses’ Who Also  Conquered Hindi Cinema, Is Hardly Remembered As One Of  Hindi Cinema’s Greats. 

On This Versatile Dancer-Actress’  Birth Anniversary Subhash  K Jha Wonders Why

Padmini  who acted  in  over  275  films in Tamil  Telugu Malayalam  in the  1950  ad   60s and  also made a smooth and super-successful transition into Hindi  films with  hits like Raj Tilak, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, Kajal,  Amar Deep  and Aashiq  was  constantly compared with  Vyjanthimala. This  caused her  otherwise-brilliant  career a   lot of damage in Hindi. Padmini had a screen  presence that was distinctive  and incomparable. The Padmini-Vyjanthimala dance   face-off  in  Raj Tilak  proved that the two  actresses were  individuals  in  their own  right.One  of  the three  dancing sisters  known as  the Travancore Sisters , Padmini was Tamil legend  Shivaji Ganesan’s  favourite co-star . They did nearly  60 films together  . In  Hindi  she was Raj Kapoor’s heroine in  3 films. But Hindi cinema was  too busy looking at her as  the  “Poor Man’s Vythanthimala”. A  checklist  of the great Padmini’s  5  finest Hindi films.

1.      Mr Sampat(1952):  Adapted  from R K Narayan’s two  short  stories  Mr Sampat  and  Miss Malini this failed  but  interesting film  directed by  the legendary Kothamangalam Subbu,  starred  the  phenomenal  Motilal as a  fraudster who  cheats a theatre dancer Padmini  of her  money and scrams  after  the scam. If you look  closely you will see elements of R K Narayan’s Rosy (Waheeda Rehman) from Guide  in Padmini’s  Miss Malini. Try and get a  look at this  forgotten  film.You will see a  great actress who also happened to be  a great dancer,at work.

2.     Ayee Phirse Bahaar(1960):  A  very powerful  performance  from Padmini in this very rare film directed  by the renowned  Tamil  director A  Bhim Singh(who later  directed Dilip Kumar in  Gopi) Ayee Phirse Bahaar  featured Padmini as  Rani, a widow who finds love and marriage  at a time  when widow  remarriage  was taboo.The man  rescuing  Padmini from a life worse than death is Shivani Ganesan in a rare outing into Hindi cinema. Years  later another Padmini (Kolhapure) played  the  same role  in Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog.  But missing  was  the dramatic  spectrum  of the original Padmini’s performance.

3.      Jis Desh Mein  Ganga Behti Hai(1960):  Raj Kapoor cast Padmini as  the feisty  fearless Nimmo,  the daughter  of  the leader  of  a band of dacoits . Padmini’s Nimmo  was a voluptuous  performance, replete  with huge dramatic  moments and  those spectacular  songs and dances that set  the screen  on fire. Padmini  dancing to  Ho maine pyar kiya and Hum bhi hain  tum bhi ho was a  paisa vasool experience  that left the audience panting for more. Padmini  had the  unique  knack of filling  up the screen  without ever  looking  unaesthetic.Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a Padmini fan,calls her dances Jis Desh… electrifying. It is  significant that when Padmini danced  in cinema she  forgot she  was  a skilled Bharat Natyam dancer and just  went with the  flow of  the rhythm.

4.     Mahabharat(1960):  In this  rare  film adaptation  of the  Mahabharat  Padmini played Draupadi. A role that is  often seen to be pivotal  to the war between the Kauarvas and  Pandavas. Bringing to the screen a rare dramatic energy that  was  never  let loose in the realm of hysteria, Padmini   just blew  the screen apart with her  performance as  the first true feminist   of Indian cinema. I rank  Padmini’s  Draupadi in this  kitschy mythological higher than Mallika Sarabhai’s  Draupadi in  Peter  Brooks’ Mahabharat.

5.     Aurat(1967): In this melodramatic  remake of the Tamil  hit Chitthi  Padmini encored her  role  as Parvathi,  the  eldest of a large impoverished  family who sacrifices her  love and happiness  end enters  a forced loveless marriage determined  to make  it work at any cost.  In an author-backed central  role Padmini delivered a  deeply  moving performance  easily  her  finest  in Hindi cinema with the Lata Mangeshkar melody Nari jeevan jhoole ki terah iss paar kabhi uss paar kabhi defining  the  thankless role  of a woman in a patriarchal society.

Please  note:  I haven’t included Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker among  her  finest  where  Padmini  was seen  in  a  blouseless skimpy white saree in  the rains  heaving and moaning  to Asha Bhosle’s  Ang lag ja balma and   masquerading as a  boy  with her  upper torso clearly not  in-sync with the disguise. Fans  of Padmini never  forgave  Raj Kapoor for  the indignity he  subjected her to in  Mera Naam Joker.

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