Interview: Padmini Kolhapure on her super star days, and more
In town for her comedy play, Baap Ka Baap, this superstar of yesteryear took time to talk to us about her return to acting after years of sabbatical, how she could just as well have been a playback singer, and of course about the time of her massive hit, Prem Rog.
My first memory of watching actress Padmini Kolhapure goes back to 1982 where she starred opposite Rishi Kapoor in Raj Kapoor’s directorial film Prem Rog. The song in legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar’s melodious voice—"Yeh Galiyan Yeh Chaubara Yahan Aana Na Dobara, Ab Hum To Bhaye Pardesi, Ke Tera Yahan Koi Nahi"—had Manorama, played by Padmini Kolhapure, grooving with grace and childlike innocence, leaving a lasting impression even today.
Padmini pulled off with finesse the transition of Manorama from a young, bubbly, stubborn girl brimming with gullibility, to becoming a mature, sorted woman, denouncing the vibrant colors of life and embracing white as a widow. We all could feel Manorama’s heart-wrenching pain and suffering. She was not allowed to taste the joys of life in a society where widows were stigmatized and forced into a life of austerity.
(Left) Receiving Filmfare’s Best Actress Award for her role in Prem Rog.
Prem Rog became one of the biggest blockbuster hits of 1982 both critically and commercially. It earned her Filmfare’s Best Actress Award and launched her into stardom.
Born to a typical Maharashtrian family in 1975, to veteran classical singer Pandit Pandharinath Kolhapure and mother Anupama who worked in the airline industry, Padmini ventured into acting on the recommendation of her aunt, the legendary singer Asha Bhosle. Asha Taai recommended this girl full of talent to another legend, Dev Anand, who cast her as a child artist in his 1975 film Ishq Ishq.
Padmini, proving her mettle early in life, was a child star in super hits like Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram (right) and Insaaf Ka Tarazu.
This was just a beginning for this little girl with big dreams to become a star. Ishq Ishq paved the way for films like Dream Girl, Zindagi, Saajan Bina Suhagan, where Padmini appeared as a child artist. Her most popular role as a child till date remains 1977 Raj Kapoor’s directorial, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, where she played the little version of Zeenat Aman.
She worked with Zeenat Aman again in Insaf Ka Tarazu that won her Filmfare’s best supporting actress in 1980. Insaf Ka Tarazu created quite a stir as it was ahead of its time with its touchy subject of a rape victim seeking justice.
The young actress was seen as a heroine at an age as young as 15 with Nassir Hussein’s Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai opposite Rishi Kapoor. Though the film flopped, it opened gates for Padmini into super stardom. In some of her other roles such as in Gehrayee (1980) and Ahista Ahista (1981), she shone as an artist.
She reunited with Rishi Kapoor in Prem Rog, which kept the box office collection ringing with a range of films ahead of her such as Vidhaata, Souten, and Pyar Jhukta Nahin among others. She worked with newcomer Anil Kapoor in Woh Saat Din, a tale about a young girl Maya who falls in love with Prem, an aspiring music director struggling to make both ends meet; Maya eventually is married off into a richer family with Doctor Anand (played by Naseeruddin Shah) who has a daughter to look after. Padmini brings out her best as a doting lover, a caring mother, and later on a wife.
At the zenith of her career, she married producer Pradeep Sharma, after working with him in Aisa Pyar Kahan, as if literally telling the world!
She made a comeback with Marathi film Chimani Pakhar (2003) which again was a flawless performance. “How Prem Rog has left an impact on people’s mind, Chimani Pakhar has left an impact on Marathi fans,” she said with a smile.
She was very recently seen in Rajkumar Santoshi’s Hindi comedy Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013).
Though her first love is acting, she very much wanted to become a singer. Not many people know that she was in the chorus in some of Lata Mangeshkar’s and Asha Bhosle’s songs such as “Yaadon Ki Baaraat” and “Dushman Dost” and later sang for her own films in Vidhaata, Hum Intezaar Karenge, Sadak Chaap, and Saat Saheliyan.
Following are excerpts of our interview with Padmini during her recent visit to Atlanta.
(Left) Prem Rog, the movie that made her career.
I want to begin with Prem Rog. The movie became such a sensation. Can you walk us through your memories on how you were selected for the lead role, and whether while making it you had sensed it would be such a hit, and then after it became a hit, how did it change your life?
I just sort of jumped on the bandwagon, and didn’t think in terms of hits and misses. After all, it was produced and directed by Raj Kapoor, so it was a great banner to be under, and to be working with Rishi Kapoor, such a great actor himself, and also so many other stalwarts in the film: Nanda, Tanuja, all these bigwigs. So I just put in my best.
And how I got this film: when I signed for a film by Nasir Hussain called Zamaane ko Dikhana Hai as a lead, and when this announcement came out, Mr. Raj Kapoor wanted to meet with me. He was looking for someone who could play the role of Manorama in Prem Rog. He did a screen test to see how I would do as a young widow. A lot of hard work went into making the movie. Went to Amsterdam, shot an entire song there, we shot for days on end, because Raj Kapoor, being such a perfectionist, made a great film, and when the film got released, got appreciated, became a hit at the box office, it was a different ball game altogether.
So Prem Rog made you a star. In some of your other roles such as in Gehrayee (1980), Insaf Ka Tarazu (1980), Ahista Ahista (1981), you shone as an artist. I hate to perpetuate a divide between commercial
cinema and art cinema but there often is. So which identity has impacted you more, that of the star or that of an artist?
Fortunately, I had already reached stardom when I had done a lot of films that most people would call ‘art cinema’—because they were women-oriented films with social messages—but they were also commercial hits. So, there’s no such thing as art cinema and commercial cinema. It’s all about crossing the lines. These films were produced by B. R. Chopra and Raj Kapoor, and they were never considered as art filmmakers. If it’s a low budget film, it’s considered an art cinema and if it’s a high budgeted film, it’s commercial cinema. But that is not to say that commercial cinema can’t or doesn’t take up serious issues. Prem Rog is a perfect example.
You started young in films. Right from the beginning you landed challenging roles, often considered taboo. How did that shape you as a person and
I grew up in a typical Maharashtrian middle class family. So we had our values, and typical growing up years were very normal, no way a star attitude in my home.
As an actor, I was very fortunate to have done great films with great directors from early on. A child is like a sponge. I just kept absorbing, gaining, and gathering all I could from all these greats—not only the directors but my co-actors. I worked with greats like Sanjeev Kumar, Dilip Kumar, and all of them. I learnt a lot from them. I completely molded into a spontaneous natural actor.
Having had that acclaim and that height, how was the long sabbatical, and coming back to movies?
I quite enjoyed my sabbatical. I was really very happy as I was really overworked. I was doing two or three shifts—from morning to night, all 365 days. So I was pretty overworked and I wanted to take a break. I devoted all my time to my family, my son. And then it just happened that after 12 or 14 years a film came to me. It was to be made in Hindi and Marathi and that really got me excited. I said, “Okay, why not? My son is big enough. Let me again do what I did best. Fortunately, the Marathi film, Chimani Pakhar (2003), again saw the producer laughing all the away to the bank. Even today, after 15 years, Maharashtrian fans talk about it, just like how Bollywood fans talk about Prem Rog.
Did you miss the limelight in between?
I was never really out of it, as my husband is a film producer, lived in Bombay. I didn’t really miss that, so to speak. Had I uprooted myself, gone somewhere, maybe got married abroad so I was totally out of touch with Bollywood, then maybe that would have been a different scenario, but nothing of that sort happened. I was very much there. My husband is very much within the industry.
(Right) Taking to theatre. Padmini was in Atlanta for her performance in the comedy play, Baap Ka Baap.
Now that you are doing theatre, how do you keep it fresh and interesting for yourself considering every show is the same, and you go on to perform over 50 shows, as you have done with Baap Ka Baap? Doesn’t it get monotonous after a while?
You have to be excited about the next show as much as you have been excited for the first show, which is very challenging. But it works, because an actor always wants to get better. Better and better, again and again! Every time you are on stage you want to put in your best and maybe even better than that. Theatre is an actor’s medium. Like film making is totally a director’s medium.
Given a choice, if money or other things are not involved, what do you enjoy, film or theatre?
For me being in front of the camera is going to be my greatest passion and first love. But acting is acting. Whether you are acting on stage or acting in front of the camera, it’s constantly trying to better yourself.
Not many know that you are a singer as well. Do you feel your acting career competed with your singing or the other way around?
I very much wanted to become a singer. It was my first passion. Hopefully I will become a singer in my next birth because I still have that passion for singing. And destiny took a turn and made me an actor. Of course I love being an actor! I wouldn’t change that for anything. But I definitely miss out on being a singer as it runs in the family. My father was a singer. My sisters, aunts are singers, so it’s in the family. I just feel that void that I could have devoted more time to singing, but to be a singer you have to really put in hours and hours of effort. I couldn’t do that. I used to hear my father say things like ‘Zindagi nikal jati hai ek raga ko perfect karne mein.’ It is a lifetime thing. He was still trying to perfect one raga which is such a great thing. Can you imagine the kind of love, passion, and dedication these people have?
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