Padma Khanna – Interview
As I ring the bell at the end of a long tortuous search for the house, I prepare myself to face a human barricade in the form of a maid or an ayah for whatever made you think that a smaller star was more approachable?
The door opens and as I look up (quite literally) to the tall, dusky slightly worried looking lady of the house …the penny drops. It is madam herself in person and at last. Tracing her through an earlier flat in Juhu and a non-existent telephone number in the first of Bombay’s downpours has been no joke. Now that I’ve met her I’d rather she didn’t just vanish from my sight so why don’t we sit down right now and get the interview done with. Soft, modulated tones inform me of her mother’s illness and maybe I could return the same day in the evening?
When I return I have still not recovered completely from the shock. The last recollection of Padma is “Noorie”—a loud, gaudy yet vibrant tawaif. Her appearance for the one mujra sequence got more cheers from the audience than the entire film put together.
Where was the sizzling, flamboyant cabaret dancer of “Johny Mera Naam”, the seductive, sultry, village belle of “Saudagar”?
This was another Padma, with the curves all modestly out of sight in a voluminous caftan, quiet subdued, withdrawn. As she curls herself up on an armchair before me, I search for a spark of the much heard of fire and in an attempt to provoke her I ask, “Don’t you think you’ve been given a raw deal by the industry, restricting you to merely dances and vamps?”. Promptly rising to the bait she replies, “Huh, what do your heroines do in your multi-starrers, sing a song three scenes and out—in comes the next one. As an artiste, I think I’m doing much more creative work and get much more satisfaction.”
She came to Bombay from Benaras, a very long time ago to star in a Bhojpuri film. “I used to learn Kathak from the age of seven and dancing actresses like Padmini and Vyjayanthimala initiated the idea of coming to Bombay.” At the age of twelve, as a member of a school dancing troupe visiting Gaya in Bihar, Padma got her first offer to star in a Bhojpuri film “Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo.” But things didn’t work out after this film, “I couldn’t adjust to the film atmosphere and so I went back to Benaras. I returned a couple of months later at the insistence of Gopi Krishna bhaiya and this time it was to stay.”
After that came a number of soft, gentle village girl roles in “Saaz Aur Awaz”, “Baharon Ke Sapne”, “Aashirwad” “Rahgir”, ”Hear Ranjha”. “It was at this time that Goldie saab required a new face for the “Johny Mera Naam” cabaret. Initially even I was doubtful whether I wanted to do a role of that kind but when I was told that I would not be able to handle it, the artiste in me accepted the challenge. And after that there has been no stopping. They just forgot the old Padma.”
What about “Rahgir” and “Saudagar” which had her in a lead role against Biswajeet and Amitabh Bachchan? Did they help her in getting any different roles?
Almost confessionally she adds, “I think I’m very unlucky, because neither of the films fared very well at the box office, even “Us Paar”, a Basu Chatterji film where I had a very good role along with Moushumi and Vinod did not succeed. In “Aaj Ki Radha”, a film directed by Mukul Dutt with stars like Waheeda Rehman and Rehana Sultan, I play a tortured society girl and for the first time I felt I had covered a certain distance as an artiste, but even though it is complete, it has not been released.”
Any memorable films to come? Her eyes light up as the tells me about “Taxi Chor” where she plays a nun, “it is a total break from my image and I have taken great pains over the role. I only hope it is released for I’d like to have the satisfaction of having proved that I can be other than just a glamour girl.” We sincerely hope so too, Padma.
Does she feel she would have a better chance had she been attached to a particular group? I think I touched a sore spot as the reply is prompt and caustic. “Maska-polish is not my line. I can’t ring up people and say how come you haven’t thought of me recently. It’s just not me, I’m different and I don’t think I can dance attendance to anyone’s conditions”, she says with a grim face.
She does not make any plans for the future, “I don’t believe in either crying about the past or thinking ahead in the future. I don’t know what will happen in the next hour let alone the next couple of years, so why plan? It was only till ‘Saudagar’ that I aspired to be a heroine, not any longer. Today I realize I’m better off than so many people as I have a distinct position.”
A certain disenchantment with the industry and life in general flows from this subdued, quiet girl. Shooting into the limelight with “Johny Mera Naam” in 1964, sixteen years is long enough time for the industry to destroy any illusions or dreams. Curled up in her armchair she presents a strangely vulnerable figure. With very few friends in the industry, she spends most of her free time at home looking after her mother and her house. “Emotion is not something you can find very easily in this industry and if any one tries to come close it is more often than not with an ulterior motive,” she says reflecting a disillusionment with relationships that have turned sour and friendships that have broken.
She stands framed in the doorway as I bid her goodbye. I want to put a hand out and erase the lines of worry that have appeared once again. I couldn’t help wishing, just hold on, one day all shall be right again. [ Interviewed by Deepa Arora in 1979 ]
Note:- Johny Mera Naam was released in 1970, not in 1964.