From stage to stage

From stage to stage


From stage to stage

She is known for her performance in Ondanondu Kaladalli, directed by Girish Karnad in the 1970s. She played the female lead in Geetha directed by Shankar Nag in the early 80s.

She has also worked as assistant director, actor and dubbing director for Malgudi Days. In 1997, she acted in Pardes, directed by Subhash Ghai, and in her most recent film TE3N, she played the role of Amitabh Bachchan’s wife. Meet the multifaceted and multitalented Padmavati Rao.


I start by asking Padmavati if she always wanted to be an actor. “I knew I liked acting, but it was not something I consciously thought of or worked towards. Which is why I am such a believer in following the heart, often with neither logic nor purpose. It all began quite early. I acted in my first amateur theatre production directed by Shankar Nag as well as in IPTA’s Aakhri Sawaal directed by Ramesh Talwar. Before I knew it, I was acting in Girish Karnad’s film Ondanondu Kaaladalli when I was all of 15. My mother always said learn all you want to while you are still under your parents’ roof, after that it becomes difficult. Thank heavens I listened to her. It has given me the wealth of independence and faith.”

For over 10 years, Padmavati has been doing theatre for children. Explaining her lure towards theatre, the actor says, “Theatre taught me how to look inward, not only in terms of introspection, but it also made me perceptive about others. It helped me develop a certain sensitivity that went beyond the surface of anything — experiences, people and situations. Theatre allowed me to rely on my intuition and instinct, taught me how to trust, persevere. It made me vulnerable and helped me find strength in that vulnerability. Above all, it gave me purpose. I did theatre for children, when singing a lullaby for or telling a story to my own children had become impossible. When the chips were really down, and I had to re-invent myself, I taught life skills through theatre, and authored a textbook on it too.”

With Karnad, Padmavati has worked as actor, assistant director, dialogue writer and translator on different projects over a period of 30 years. “Working with Girish Karnad on Ondanondu Kaaladalli taught me that it is possible to shoot a feature film in all of 46 days. With Mahendra Joshi, I did some challenging work in my teens and got acquainted with the works of Stoppard, Schaffer and the likes.

I have never met a quieter director than M S Sathyu. His understanding of light and spatial possibilities is something that I have always admired. I got to work with Shaukat Azmi and A K Hangal saab.” In her stint as Nag’s assistant director on Malgudi Days, Padmavati learnt most of her filmmaking. “He was spontaneous and would often discard or add something on the sets on the spur of the moment.” Her recent film TE3N has also been a wonderful experience. She says, “Shooting on location rather than a set is something I love and thankfully, it happened with this film too. Bachchan sahab’s ability to put in the concentrated hours of work he does is baffling. Working with Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui was a delight, to say the least. I shall never forget how comfortable Vidya made me feel that first day when I stepped on to the sets.”

Work matters

For an actor who has dabbled in almost all forms of acting, which form appeals to her the most? “I can’t say which one more than the other. I love both theatre and films, and I have to keep doing either at any given point in time.” For someone who still relies on gut feeling when it come to choosing scripts, Padmavati says the concept is simple. “The question I ask myself is would I like to get into the shoes of this person for a while.

Does it interest and inspire me in some way, and will it do the same for someone else too?” She is busy with Kitchen Poems, a theatrical performance of 60 plus poems authored by Dhiruben Patel. Also on the cards is the publication of a collection of love poems and songs in Hindi and English. “Once this is done, I will be working on a project for school dropouts,” she signs off.

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