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.