A bharatanatyam dancer and popular actress who acted in South Indian and Hindi films, Padmini was born on 12 June 1932 in Thiruvananthapuram to a Nair family.
His sisters, Ragini and Lalitha, were also actresses and the trio was together called the Travancore sisters.
As children the sisters learnt several forms of classical dance including bharatanatyam.
Padmini made her film debut as a teenager in a small role in the 1948 Hindi film Kalpana, the dance-drama directed by choreographer and dancer Uday Shankar. She later went on to act opposite Hindi film stars such as Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor.
She played her first ‘character role’ in the 1950 Tamil film Ezhai Padum Paadu, which also had a Telugu version. Soon, Padmini was acting in all four South Indian language films, and she was comfortable speaking in all the four languages.
In the 1952 Tamil film Panam she starred opposite the legendary Tamil star Sivaji Ganesan for the first time. The two would end up acting together in dozens of films, and became a popular pair in Tamil cinema. She was also paired opposite other important heroes of South Indian cinema including M.G. Ramachandran, Gemini Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao and S.S. Rajendran.
Her films with Raj Kapoor included Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. In the film Padmini is the love interest of Raj Kapoor, who is caught between bandits and the police. Her other Hindi films included Payal, Vaasna and Mahabharat.
Among her hit films with Sivaji Ganesan was Thillaanaa Mohanambal, in which she plays the role of dancer who is pitted against a musician. Her Tamil films include Meenda Sorkam, Theiva Peravi, Thooku Thooki, Madhurai Veeran, Rajarajan, Punarjanmam, Amara Deepam, Chitti, Pesum Deivam, Thillana Moganambal and Vietnam Veedu.
Her popular Malayalam films include Snehaseema, Adhyapika, Kumara Sambhavam and Vashthuhara.
In 1961 she married Ramachandran, a doctor settled in the US.
She also dabbled in politics and campaigned for the Congress during elections in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She continued to get offers for roles in Indian films through the 1980s, but she decided to concentrate on training a new generation of Indian-Americans on the nuances of classical dance.
“I don’t feel a compelling urge to go back and resume my career,” she once said (quoted in rediff.com). “I have done practically everything an actress wants to do; I have played all kinds of roles.”
She opened a school for classical dance in New Jersey in her house’s basement in 1977. But soon it spread, with five centres in New Jersey and New York. The Padmini School of Fine Arts was among the first major Indian classical dance schools in the United States.
In a profile of her in The Hindu in September 2004, Kausalya Santhanam wrote: “A picture of grace and dignity, Padmini exudes a rare serenity too. Her heart-shaped face still retains its contours and despite the march of time the doe-like eyes which mesmerised audiences retain their glow. As you talk to her, she transforms easily for you into the lovely princess wooed and won, the Mohanambal without a parallel for her tillana, the bewitching woman who has her lover enthralled, the devoted wife, the paragon of virtue and sacrifice...”
Exactly two years later, Padmini died after suffering a heart attack, on 24 September 2006. She left behind countless admirers — of Padmini the film star as well as Padmini the dancer.
Also on this day:
1958 — Jagadish, Malayalam film actor and screenwriter, was born
2000 — P. L. Deshpande, Marathi writer and humorist, passed away