Bharatanatya exponent Padmini Ramachandran was surprised when she was offered a role in Life of Pi

In her youth, she has made appearances in movies like Dil Hi To Hai (Hindi), Iruvar Ullam (Tamil) and Narthanasala (Telugu), mostly as a dancer in song sequences.

“But I stopped acting after marriage,” says Padmini Ramachandran, who has made an appearance in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi that has recently hit the screens. Padmini re-enacted her real-life role as a dance instructor, where young Pi meets his first love, Anandi.

Padmini, a Rajyotsava-awardee, is the managing trustee and director of Natyapriya (Nrithyakshetra), a classical dance institution (Bharatanatyam). She has choreographed over 70 dance dramas, apart from TV serials.

“It is rare that somebody in such a cultural field, other than young dancers, gets such an opportunity. And so when one day, my son, who works with a production company, asked me to meet the casting director of the movie, I was really surprised.”

Padmini went to meet the casting director complete with her cymbals (which are meant to keep the rhythm) and acted out a few lines of the script. “A month or so later I received a call saying that I was to meet Ang Lee in Mumbai.”

Padmini found Lee to be a “simple and wonderful” person. “He was particular about knowing every detail about Bharatanatyam, and how I would be conducting it. It was there that I came to know the scene was an introduction to the young Pi.”

Though Padmini found herself feeling at ease with her role, she describes the experience on the set as a “special experience”. “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 recalls.

“Ang Lee is such a perfectionist and he looks into such minute details and brings life into the character rather than the actor.” Padmini is open to more such opportunities as long as they are suitable, “especially for choreography.”

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