Raj Kapoor Wanted to Own Me

Padmini Kolhapure on life on and off the silver screen.


She is the niece of the famous Mangeshkar sisters, Lata and Asha. Her grandfather was a theater giant, her father a classical singer and her mother worked in the airline industry. It’s no surprise then that Padmini Kolhapure has never had a problem flying high. In this exclusive interview with Little India’s Kavita Chhibber, the super star of Indian films, who also made waves with play back singing and is now dabbling successfully in theater talks about her life on and off the silver screen.

Coming from an illustrious family of world class musicians, how did Padmini Kolhapure end up in films instead?


It is true that I grew up surrounded by music. My father was a classical musician and a disciple of the legendary Kumar Gandharva. Though he taught us in the early years and I have also learnt a bit of Kathak and Bharatnatyam, I think I picked up a lot more instinctively because music was so deeply ingrained in our lives. However my father had to struggle tremendously. It was after he started taking tuitions that things improved a bit for us financially. I think even if you look at the classical musicians of today, barring a handful, a majority of them are struggling and have not received the recognition they deserve. I was 7 when I was offered a role in Dev Anand’s Ishq Ishq Ishq and after that I didn’t look back and my family didn’t have to struggle any more.

How was life for a child actor in those days?

Actually a lot better than it may be today. We were like one big family. My father used to accompany me for the shooting and Dev uncle and everyone else really looked after me. I remember in one of the scenes that was shot in the snow of Kufri I was totally frozen and it was Dev Uncle who personally rubbed brandy on my feet, put me in warm water to thaw me out. I have very happy memories of my early acting days.

Then Raj Kapoor found you. Is it true that you stuck your nose at him and told him you were already an actress when he asked if you would act in his film?


You know that? Yes it’s very true. I was always very fond of dancing and would put some of my favorite Hindi songs by Asha Bhosle and improvise by creating my own dance steps. It was at one of the dance performances where he was the chief guest that he spotted me. He then asked me if I would act in his film, and I replied I was already acting in films in shall we say very confident way. I guess he was taken in by that. That is how I got Satyam Shivam Sundaram and then of course acted in Premrog.

You have given play back in films and also cut an album with Bappi Lahiri. Did you not think of singing the famous song Yashomati Maiyya yourself since it was picturized on you?

Actually so many people have asked me if I sang that song, because Lataji did such a remarkable job with it. Raj uncle actually asked me to sing the song before Lataji and she watched me closely and studied my gestures, my voice, my body movements, and sang the song exactly as I had sung it. It was amazing. She can sing for anyone. Her voice is nectar sweet and she is Saraswati incarnate.

Premrog and Insaaf ka Tarazu were very tough movies. You were a young teenager when you played a widow and also the little sister of Zeenat Aman who is raped after Zeenat herself is raped by Raj Babbar. How did you prepare for those roles, and do you get affected by such powerful negativity when you enact it?

When I look at Premrog today, I feel the entire credit for that performance must go to Raj Kapoor. I simply imitated him, and he was a perfectionist. He took take after take and would keep repeating the shot until he was satisfied. I think if I was to redo that role, I might bring a certain maturity to the performance, but frankly the innocence that Manorama the young girl portrayed, was who I really was at that time – this young carefree girl. For me the most gratifying thing has been the fact that so many film directors screen that film to this day for their heroines and tell them to imbibe that acting style. I think somehow even though I was very young I instinctively knew what each director wanted and was able to deliver.


As far as Insaaf Ka Tarazu is concerned, B.R. Chopra not only took a chance on a taboo topic – rape – he also made a brilliant film which was universally appreciated. Contrary to what people think, I really had no problem doing that scene simply because the impact and power of that entire scene lay in insinuation. It left a lot to the imagination of the viewer, because there was no violence. Zeenat’s rape in that movie was more stereotypical in that her clothes were ripped, she was thrown about and battered. Unlike many actors, I have never ever gotten so attached to any of the characters I have played that I was affected or traumatized.

Is it true that you were the first choice for Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili and he was very unhappy when you turned him down. He even went on to say that you were not choosing the right kind of films and were becoming a victim of the system?

Oh Raj Kapoor wanted to own me and I say this with my tongue firmly in my cheek! Jokes apart he just wanted me to remain with the R.K. banner. One thing remains true to this day: Raj Kapoor was the real showman in the film industry. We loved and looked forward eagerly to work in his films, because he did everything with style. He was also a man way ahead of his times when you look at the themes he dealt with in all his films. His movies had the best music, because he was so knowledgeable. He used to accompany my father to so many events even when they were in people’s homes. For him this was a continuation of learning about music. The food we were served was phenomenal and every one, from the top actors to the technicians to the spot boys ate together. I didn’t do Ram Teri Ganga Maili because I was not very comfortable with a kissing and bedroom scene in the film. I was also the first choice for Ek Duje ke Liye, Silsila and Astitva, but couldn’t do them due to date problems.

Who have been your favorite co-stars? Is it also true that you hero worshipped Rajesh Khanna and would come running no matter where you were just to get a look at him, but when you finally did do a film together the experience was a disappointment?

That is true. Rajesh Khanna wasn’t what I expected. My favorite co-stars of course were Rishi Kapoor and Mithun Chakravarty. I learnt so much from Rishi, because he is such a brilliant actor. On the personal front he was pretty reserved and bullied me!

Mithun and I did many films together and had amazing chemistry. He is a natural like me and we both loved to dance. In fact I had most fun when I was dancing and lip synching to songs in my films.

So who do you think are the great musicians and there are constant comparisons between your two aunts. Who do you think is better Lata or Asha?


My personal favorites are Salil Chaudhry who made the most complicated songs seem so simple, R.D. Burman who was a genius and Madan Mohan. As for my aunts, while it is true that in spite of her legendary sister, Ashaji beat the odds and carved her own unique niche you just cannot say one is better than the other. There are times I listen to Ashaji’s numbers and think, my God she is incomparable. Then I hear something by Lataji and am floored. One thing they have managed to do is to make me feel not one female singer is worth listening to these days. They all pale in comparison. I think all the singers of yesteryears were so fortunate. They had the best music directors, the best lyricists, and each music director knew which song to give to whom based on their strengths and versatility. Those songs remain evergreen. Today there is a new star that rises one week and falls the next.

You chucked it all at the age of 21 and eloped with your husband film director Tutu Sharma. I believe it was not love at first sight!

Indeed it wasn’t. I also was a bit suspicious of his bachelor lifestyle. I acted in one of his films Aisa Pyar Kahan and got to know him. My parents were very against the relationship because he was a Punjabi and they wanted me to marry a Marathi and in a family where they too could fit in and feel connected. I really regret the fact that I eloped and caused them a lot of pain. In hindsight that is perhaps the only thing I would like to have avoided if I were to live my life again. Being a parent I realize now how hurtful it must have been. It took them just a couple of months before they came around and accepted us.

I did take a long hiatus and devoted all my time on my son Priayank. He is about to finish his studies and is going to try his hand at acting. But I haven’t been sitting idle. I have returned to acting and also own a modeling and grooming school along with an acting school as well.

You have also made a mark in theater. Since you come from a theater background, with your grandfather being a name to reckon with in theater, was it a natural transition?

Oh no, I was actually very concerned when I was first asked to do theater. I had heard enough horror stories about people getting cold feet at the last minute. I was also concerned that it may become too drab for me, because theater meant reading the same lines each day with little room for improvisation or surprising your co actor. But as I started looking at scripts and doing readings I realized I was really enjoying myself. I love the instant response one gets from the audience. Theater has been wonderful and I see that more and more people are now becoming inclined towards theater. Many well known actors are now doing theater, which is an interesting change. Earlier theater actors would enter films; now film actors are doing theater.

You have an acting and modeling school. What have you seen?

There are several things. Today Bombay is flooded with people wanting to act and many seem to be willing to go to any extent to make it. The entertainment industry is huge today and its easy to get lost or fall into the wrong hands. I see heartbreaking stories of people losing everything in trying to achieve stardom by the hundreds. So I felt there was a need to ensure that there was a place where people could go to and move towards their goal through the right channels.

Another thing that is key is that today its all about money. In our time the director would do 200 retakes if he did not find the scene satisfactory. Today they expect you to get it right the first or second time. It is therefore necessary to learn how to face the camera and how to emote under short notice. The competition is so tough that you have to be an all rounder and must have what it takes to be ahead of the game and that is what we try to train these youngsters to do.

Is there any dream that remains unfulfilled?

That I could not become a playback singer. That is truly what I wanted to be. Other than that I think I have had a super life and its continuing to this day.  

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