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