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Padmini and Y. Gee. Mahendra talk about films then and now

You and Sivaji made a great jodi

I've always dreamt of doing a film with you — Mahendra


Padmini... the name instantly brings to mind scintillating performances. Remember her in "Thillana Mohanambal", "Utthamaputhiran" , "Deivapiravi" and "Thiruvarutchelvar"? Her fluid steps as a dancer earned her the title `Natya Peroli.' What a fan following she enjoyed! And continues to enjoy, even today. Among them is stage and film personality Y. Gee. Mahendra. Asked whom he would like to meet for `Take Two' and Mahendra at once suggested Padmini. He said she had known him since he was a toddler.

The walls of Padmini's third floor apartment in Chennai are lined with photographs that capture the actress rubbing shoulders with practically every VIP of yesteryear. Clad in a Kanjeevaram sari, [she says it is a gift from Padma Subramaniam], the New York-based Padmini, who is on a brief visit to the city, exudes charm and grace as she greets Mahendra.

S. R. Ashok Kumar records the conversation.

Mahendra: "Vanchikotai Valiban" was the first film I saw of yours. I can never forget the dance contest where you were pitted against Vyjayanthimala. I wanted you to lose because Vyjayanthimala is my cousin!

Padmini: That's a revelation. Everybody wanted me to win the contest, but here is one person who actually wanted me to lose.

Mahendra: When I saw "Utthamaputhiran" I was jealous of Sivaji Ganesan. I've been your fan ever since. When did you see me first?

Padmini: I happened to visit your home. (Smiles at the memory) You were only four years old.

Mahendra: What changes do you perceive in the Indian film industry over the years? Have acting styles changed?

Heroine-oriented

Padmini: At that time, films were heroine-oriented. For example, "Mangayar Thilagam", "Deivapiravi", "Thangappadhumai" and "Chitti". But now, they're more hero-oriented. Naturally, the style of acting and everything else changes according to the story and the characters.

Mahendra: Imagine, films glorifying women, though stars such as Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and Gemini Ganesan dominated celluloid.

Padmini: Hindi cinema too had big stars — Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar... . What's more, films focussed on ethics and morals and conveyed powerful social messages.

Mahendra: My mother used to sing the popular number `Neela Vanna Kanna Vada' as a lullaby for me. I always believed it was you rendering the song and it was not the voice of playback singer P. Susheela.

Padmini: By the way, `Neela Vanna... ' was sung by R. Balasaraswathi and not P. Susheela.

Mahendra: Gosh! You've got a wonderful memory.

Padmini: (With a mischievous smile) At 72! And you're just 42, huh?

Mahendra: No, I'm 54 so perhaps I can be pardoned for a few lapses.

First play

Padmini: Do you remember your first film in which my sister acted with you? Or was it a play?

Mahendra: Yes, Ragini played the heroine in a drama along with my father. My first film was "Navagraham" and my first screen mother, Ragini. After that, she always treated me like a son. Can you recall your experiences with comedians of yesteryear?

Padmini: Let me tell you about N. S. Krishnan. He came to Trivandrum for the Vanchi Charity fund-raiser. At that time I was only eight years old and played the role of Narada. My sister Lalitha was Bama and an ICS officer's daughter was Rukmini. After the performance, NSK came to the dais and hugged me. He told the audience that if at all he were to give a prize it would go only to this child for her brilliant performance as Narada. He predicted that I would one day become a heroine. Eight years later he cast me as heroine in the film "Manamagal." His words came true and so did my dream of acting in films.

Dream comes true

Mahendra: My dream came true at the age of 11. The UAA troupe's drama "Petral Than Pillaiya" was made into a film "Paar Magale Paar". It was my first stage performance. Sivaji Ganesan came to watch it as it was going to be made into a film. From that day I became an ardent Sivaji fan.

Padmini: No actor can match Sivaji for punctuality. Those days we worked three shifts and more. But today, work ends with just one shift.

Mahendra: You are correct. I'm proud to say that I've done nearly 40 films with Sivaji.

Padmini: Why, I've done around 60 films with him.

Mahendra: You made a great jodi. Tell me, did dance help you in acting?

Padmini: I have no theatre experience. Stage artistes have no difficulty delivering lengthy dialogue. I cannot. But dance helped me. In dance we have the navarasas, which enable you to emote effortlessly.

Mahendra: Like in "Thillanamohanambal"!

[She nods in agreement and sings `Navarasamum' from the song `Marainthirundhu Parkum Marmam Enna"] I am the only one who has not had the good fortune of acting with you. And when you presided over my play which was staged in New York you told me "You are the only person with whom I have never done a film." So I am waiting to act with you.

Padmini: I will certainly act with you when I visit India next time.

Mahendra: I have a great role lined up for you in "Patti and the Naughty Boys." It's a role you've fancied.

Padmini: Make it into a film and I'll accept the role.

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