indian cinema heritage foundation

Padma Khanna

  • Born: 10 March 1949 (Varanasi)
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi
  • Spouse: Jagdish L. Sidana

Stunningly beautiful and a trained dancer, Padma Khanna was one of the most frequently seen faces on the Indian screen. Though she starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan as an actor as well, Padma was best known in the industry as a talented dancer. 
Padma Khanna was born in Varanasi on 10 March 1949. She started receiving training in Kathak at a very young age, and while performing at a function in Kolkata, she was spotted by Kundan Kumar. Kumar was working on a Bhojpuri film at the time, and he was so impressed by the young Padma that he cast her in his film. 
Padma was only 13 years old when she appeared on screen for the first time in the Bhojpuri film Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo (1962). She continued to work in Bhojpuri films for a while, starring in Bidesiya (1963), Kundan Kumar’s Ganga (1965) and Nazir Hussain’s production, Hamar Sansar (1965). 
Soon after this, Padma travelled to Mumbai, where she met the producer-director Subodh Mukerji. Subodh Mukerji happened to be directing the Joy Mukherjee-Saira Banu starrer Saaz Aur Awaz (1966), and he signed her on for a small role in the film.  Padma then got enlisted for a few roles in films like Biwi Aur Makan (1966), Mehrban (1967), Heer Raanjha (1970), Door Ka Raahi (1971), Lal Patthar (1971) and Ustad Pedro (1971), but she could not make a significant mark with any of them. 
When Meena Kumari fell gravely ill during the shooting of Pakeezah (1971), Padma Khanna stood in for her as a body double for her dance sequences. She worked as a body double for a few other actresses, but her big break came with her appearance as a cabaret dancer in “Husn ke laakhon rang, kaun se rang dekhoge” in Johny Mera Naam (1970). Her dancing in this song proved to be such a hit that soon producers were lining up to sign her as a dancer for their films. She appeared in a number of dance and cabaret sequences in films of the time. 
With the demonstration of her acting prowess in Saudagar (1973), Padma Khanna held her ground while sharing the screen with acclaimed actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Nutan. The film was unsuccessful at the box office, but it received much critical acclaim, establishing Padma’s worth as a powerful actress. Though she did not receive many offers to act in films, Padma Khanna successfully created a space for herself in the industry as a dancer. By the next decade, things were changing in Bollywood: the popular stars Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi notably started to blur the boundaries between the figure of the heroine and the item girl. 
Jagdish L. Sidana, the assistant director of Saudagar, met Padma Khanna on the sets of the film and was instantly smitten. The two were married soon after. In the eighties, Padma was cast as Queen Kaikeyi in Ramanand Sagar’s television series Ramayan, a role that would forever enshrine her in public memory. Padma Khanna moved to the United States with her husband and children in the nineties. She founded the Indianica Academy of dance in 1997, a studio that she owns and runs to this day. 


Image Courtesy: Filmfare May 22 1970

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