Padma Khanna, a popular name in Hindi and Bhojpuri films in the 1970s, who currently resides in New Jersey and runs the Indianica Dance Academy, says she never really gave up acting. And she says she still gets offers from Mumbai and is ready to return to celluloid if given a "very special role".
Still remembered for her dance in the song "Husn ke lakhon rang", the actress took life the way it came. "I never really gave it up; however, life brought me to a precipice. I was at a point in life where I had a choice and chose to start anew - to share the art and culture that drives me till this day."
At the young age of 7, she started learning Kathak from Guru Kishen Maharaj of Varanasi. At the age of 12, she started performing on stage to the accompaniment of tabla wizard Pundit Shamta Prasad. She learnt advanced Kathak from Gopi Krishna.
Currently, she is busy with the upcoming 17th annual cultural show of her academy - Chamakte Sitare 2013 - which will be held June 22 at Plainfield High School, New Jersey.
She debuted as an actress in the 1961 Bhojpuri film "Bhaiyya" at the age of 12. Her big break came in 1970 when she played a cabaret dancer in "Johnny Mera Naam". She acted in more than 400 movies of all Indian languages, among them "Saaz Aur Awaaz", "Biwi Aur Makaan", "Baharon Ke Sapne", "Sangharsh", "Dastaan", "Hindustan Ki Kasam", "Rampur Ka lakshman" and "Saudagar".
Married to film director Jagdish l. Sidana, the actress came to the US in the 1990s and founded the Indianica Dance Academy.
What drove her to leave the stardom of BollywoodIJ
"I came here because I noticed a dearth of classical Indian art, especially in the dance form," she said.
"It also happened that my children wanted to further their studies in the United States. My husband and I couldn't stay away from them. We migrated together as a family to the United States and our togetherness has made all things possible for us," the actress told Hi India newspaper here in an interview.
And she really gets nostalgic while talking about "Saudagar" where she shared screen with legends like Nutan and Amitabh Bachchan and got critical acclaim for her role as Phool Bano. Based on a Bengali story by Narendranath Mitra and directed by Sudhendu Roy, Padma, who speaks fluent Bengali, feels it was a dream role.
Though she says it's difficult for her to pick most memorable experience as an actress, "Saudagar", of course, has its place.
Recalling the film's shooting, she said: "We had no sets; it was mostly shot at the India-Bangladesh border. There was a scene where my character gets beaten by the protagonist (Amitabh Bachchan). That part of the script was not written and I had to respond to his anger. In actuality, he was thrashing a jute bag and I was responding to his dialogue from behind the camera. After that scene we had a good laugh."
She also acted opposite a Bengal tiger!
"In a film called 'Chhaila Baabu' in the late 1970s, the cast and crew were phenomenal plus I got to work with a Bengal Tiger, they didn't believe in CG (computer graphics) or animation. It was all real!"
Padma acted in TV serials, the most popular among them being "Ramayan", in which she played Kaikeyi, one of the two pivotal female characters. And she has special memories of that too.
"Ramanand Sagar was directing a scene of the Kop Bhavan when Kaikayi is upset with King Dashrath. It was such an emotionally-charged scene that both of us kept weeping long after the camera had stopped rolling," she said.
A big fan of 'dancer' Sridevi, the yesteryear's dancing queen of Bollywood is more than happy with what she got in life - immense respect from the entire film fraternity as well as from her students at Indianica.