Padmini born and raised in Thiruvananthapuram in what was then the princely state of Travancore (now the Indian state of Kerela), Padmini was the second daughter of Thankappan Pillai and Sarawathi Amma. Her sisters, Lalitha and Ragini, were also renowned film actresses. Together, the threesome were known as the Travancore sisters. Padmini had her early education at Mahila Mandiram School and at Sea Shell convent in Thiruvananthapuram. Later she devoted her entire time and energy in pursuing classical dance and has been religiously doing it for the past 64 years.
Padmini and her sisters were disciples of the noted Indian dancer Guru Gopinath,they learnt Keral natanam style of dancing from him. Later TM Mahalingam Pillai was her teacher. In 1942, at the age of ten, she had her arangettam. At 14, she became a member of a dance troupe that toured various parts of India. She also composed songs for that troupe.
Film director Subrahmaniam noticed her talents while she was presenting ‘Parijatha Pushpapaharanam in Trivandrum. At the age of 17, Padmini was cast as the heroine in Kalpana (1950), launching her film career. She acted in films for nearly 30 years.
Padmini was renowned for her linguistic ability, and dubbed her own voice onto versions of her movies destined for the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam markets. This cross-cultural linguistic ability made her a very significant figure in the history of 20th-century moviemaking in India.
Padmini co-starred with several of the most well-known actors in Indian film, including Sivaji Ganesan, M.G. Ramachandran, Raj Kapoor, Prem Nazir, and Rajkumar. She had acted with Sivaji Ganesan in nearly 60 films. Some of her popular Malayalam films include Prasanna, Snehaseema, Vivaahitha, Adhyaapika, Kumaarasambhavam, Nokkethadoorath kannumnatt, Vasthuhara, Dolar, etc.She also starred in almost 400 Tamil films. Ezhe petum patukal was her first film in Tamil.
Her association with superstar Sivaji Ganesan starts ith the film Panam in 1952. Some of her noted Tamil films include Anp, Thankaperuma, Thillana Mohanambal, Viyatnam veeDu, Ethir Parathe, Mankayir thilakam , Poove Poo chooti vaa. In two of her popular Bollywood films – Mera Naam Joker and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai – she was paired against the legendary Bollywood star, Raj Kapoor. Her other Bollywood films included Payal (1957), Babubhai Mistry’s Mahabharat (1965), etc. Her most famous film was Thillana Mohanambal, a Tamil film where she plays a dancer pitted against a musician.
She got married to Dr. KT Ramachandran in 1961. Following her marriage she left the soaring acting career and settled for family life. She settled in the United States and in 1977 opened her classical dance school in New Jersey, The ‘Padmini School of Fine Arts’. Her school is today one of the largest Indian Classical Dance institutions in America.
More than 100 students now learn Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi, and folk dances at the school. So far, more than 71 arangettams (graduations) were held. Late film actress Richa Sharma, Sanjay Dutt’s wife was one of her students.
Padmini has performed dances on Christian themes also. Her “Mary Magdalene” was a very successful dance drama. In addition to her own dance school, she also teaches children at the Kerala Culture Forum in New Jersey. She also has plans to start a school to teach classical Indian Dance forms in Chennai.
She is a founder-member of the Hindu Temple Society of North American. She is also associated with many charities.
In 1981 her husband died at the age of 48. Their only son Prem Ramachandran is an official with the Warner Brothers. He acted in one Malayalam movie and produced three documentaries.
Padmini died of a heart attack in a hospital in the city of Chennai on September 24, 2006.