Author: Kanya Ramachandran, Bengaluru
Guru Padmini Ramachandran was born in Kerala’s Mavallikkara on September 8, 1944. She was brought up in Chennai. She got married to T.K. Ramachandran at a young age. After completing bachelors, she moved to Bengaluru with her family. The Vazhvoor bani stamp was there in her presentations. During the initial years, Bengaluru did not have a Doordarshan Kendra, so she personally took two of her star seniors, Rathna Supriya and Rangashree, to Chennai to have them graded. Her nattuvangam and Jahnavi’s singing was a great combination and scintillated audience. To her three sons Manoj, Dinesh and Prithvijit, and daughter Kanya, she was their selfless mother who was ever worried about their well being.
Her passion and true calling remained dance, even when films had made demands on her. After a long gap, she re-enacted her real-life role as a dance instructor, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi film; where young Pi meets his first love, Anandi. But she was surprised when she was offered a role. ‘one day, my son, who works with a production company, asked me to meet the casting director of the movie, I was really surprised. I never wanted to do the role because I wasn’t too keen on acting. But Ang Lee convinced me saying – whatever you are doing in real life will be shown on screen as well. Ang Lee is such a perfectionist and he looks into such minute details and brings life into the character rather than the actor. Later, I went to Taiwan for the preliminary rendition and the music director found my cymbals to be jarring. So they asked me if they were really necessary. I had to tell them that I cannot conduct lessons without it and it’s a part of the tradition. Finally, they plastered the cymbals to reduce its volume,” she recalled once.
My Amma, Guru Mrs Padmini Ramachandran was a person who was born to dance and lived life for dance. Her journey of dance started when Padmini Priyadarshini [as she was known before marriage] was initiated into the world of Bhartnatyam by Sri Pandanaloor Chokkalingam Pillai. Further she continued and completed her Arangetram under Padmashree Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. As many of Sri Vazhuvoor students became famous cine actresses, Amma also ventured into the field of cinema but through dance. She has done numerous films of various languages like Irvaulam, Bhaghaperavne, Vidhi Velli, Narthana shala, Dil hi to hai etc. She has acted with all the top heros of all the languages including Dr Rajkumar, Shivaji Ganeshan, NT Rama rao, Prem Nazir and Raj Kapoor.
As her daughter I remember seeing her dance on the screen, in fact when we first got our VCR, the first movie we saw was ‘Sampoorna Ramayan’ where she was dancing with Sri Gopikrishnaji. He was Manmata and she was his consort Rathi. Both the song was so vibrant and full of vigour. I could not take my eyes off and wondered how she managed to dance so gracefully to such a fast beat and do all the acrobatic steps with such ease. Out of all her movies I have seen, my favourite is ‘Vidhi Velli’; where she acted like a comedian and danced so vividly, that her smile and comic timing where hi-lighted in this movie.
My mother used to talk about how she was shooting for the hindi movie “Dil Hi to hai”, were she was a partner to Sri Pran Saab, and Sri Raj Kapoor was the her . She would say how wonderful Pran saab was and how he would help her with the hindi dialogues. In the last scene there was a song called ‘parda utta salaam’- where she was dancing along side Raj Kapoor and for this song both were hard worked together.
The memories of her short movie career was always evident as she used to love watching movies. After she got married she stopped working in films but not many people know that my mother loved to study. So even after marriage and having her first child she completed her Bsc in science in Ethiraj College, Chennai and secured a gold medal. This was a glimpse into her determination and strength to conquer new worlds.
Her School Natyapriya was founded in 1974, with the very name you can see that dance was always her first love. Being in Bangalore, her first students Ratna Supriya, Rangashree, Monisha Unni, Shalini and Sharmila Shivashankar and myself took to her vibrant choreography and innovation and became one of the well known dance schools in Bangalore. I remember her first production titled ‘Sambhavami Yuge Yuge’-was a major production at 1980’s. It had over 30 students participating and had props I have never seen till date. We had costumes of a fish, tortoise and even a pillar that broke in half with narasimha coming out from inside etc. A spectacular show which was fully classical and had all the avatars in different languages. Tickets for this show was Rs 100 and we had two full days of house full shows too!
Her innovation and creativity knew no bounds, for the first time on Kannada Doordarshan we had a 13 episode dance drama, ‘Himashweta-snow white and the seven dwarfs” with production from AVM studios. ‘Hima Shwetha’ – probably very first Kannada dance drama television serial, may be the last one too. She brought out the beautiful story through classical dance technique very well. She was such a workaholic that, during those days she would supervise all the dance shots and later in the night go for editing the shots. We were so fortunate to get to shoot in big sets which was usually made for Kamal hassan and Rajnikant ! The serial is one of its kind in India where a fairy tale was indianised and projected on screen for kids to enjoy both classical and fantasy incorporated into one magical journey.
She choreographed over 70 dance dramas, apart from TV serials. To mention a few- Kutrala kuravanj, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Navarasa Karnataka, Vittala Darshana, Navarasa Nayaka, Navarasa Gejje, Kannagiyin Silambu, Andaal Charitha, Durbhagobhathi Elokeshi, a composition of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, a dance feature in United Kingdom on Kalighat arts/paintings. Some of these have been telecast on Doordarshan also. Over the years she held several distinguished positions like; the Chairman of Karnataka Government’s Bharatanatyam Education Board for the year 1996. Her contributions have earned her number of accolades and awards from various organizations and government – to name a few- Nrithya Academy of Karnataka Award with title ‘Natya Rani Shantala’, ‘Nrithya Ratna’ from the Chief Minister of Goa, Bharatashikaram, Bharatashiromani, Rajyotsava award, and the title of ‘Best Guru’ from the music academy –Chennai for two consecutive years.
She established Cultural Center called ‘Nrithya Kshetra’ – a center for performing arts. This is what she struggled for the past ten years to build this center and opened its auditorium ‘Rangamandira’ just last year. She had to her credit more than 120 rangapraveshas and many of her students have also started their own institutions following her footsteps. Several students are recipients of government scholarships and awards, are graded artists of Doordarshan, are empanelled with ICCR and have established their own academies of dance all over the world. From the USA to even Kuwait her students have established themselves and are continuing her legacy of dance Some of the gems of Natyapriya are Lakshmi Goplaswamy, Rathna Supriya, Rangashree, Sridevi Thirumalai, Navia Natarajan, Kirti Ramgopal, Mithun Shyam, Keerthana Ravi, Priyanka Raghavan, Shruthi Gopal, Sneha Devanandan, Shalini S, Shilpa Nanjappa, and many more.
All her life she walked, talked and breathed dance. A little story to tell you on what she meant by the show must go on; we were performing the ‘Prahalada charitam’ on stage, and I was about ten years old performing the role of Prahalada, and my mother was Hiraniyakashipu. We were on stage when the singer forgot the sahitya words. my mother immediately went up took the mike and started dancing and singing the whole song. Her dedication knew no bounds; even when she was unwell she was composing jathis for one of her student’s arangetram.
Though we convinced now, that hereafterwards will never hear her vibrant voice, see her enigmatic smile, her innovative choreography, her invincible energy; she lives on in every life that she touched and the passion for dance will be eternal. I feel blessed to be born not only as her daughter but her student as well.
Amma, I bow down to your beloved feet to give me the strength to fulfill all your dreams.
Padmini Ramachandran’s fond dream was of a centre for cultural excellence and well rounded education in dance and music. Therefore when the Government of Karnataka granted her an acre of land at Hoysala Nagar, to build her cultural institution, she felt that her prayers were answered. On 15th and 16th October 2011, saw her dream come true in the name of Nrithyakshetra. It was inaugurated in the presence of a large number of admirers, contemporary gurus, dancers and well wishers in Bangalore.
It is a Rangamandira; a beautiful construction on a spacious ground has a seating capacity of 500, with 2 green rooms with adjoining rooms for rehearsals, practical classes and another part is her residential quarters. Since the plot is spacious covering one acre, there is scope for constructions of hostel and other buildings for art lovers who want to stay to study fine arts and an auditorium for art lovers to conduct shows and demonstrations.