February 5, 2013 | 9 Comments | Betsy Woodman
We were the new kids on the block in 1953, the block being Edward Elliot Rd (now Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai) and the city being Madras (now Chennai.) It could have been a difficult adjustment–but instead, it was like falling into a warm bath. This was largely because of the kindess of our hospitable next-door neighbors–the mom, Saraswati Amma, her three daughters, Lalitha, Padmini, and Ragini, their brother, Chandran, and their cousins, Ambika and Sukumari. We were still learning the ropes and no doubt made gaffes right and left, but not to worry, they made allowances!
In their publicity photos the three sisters–India’s beloved Travancore Sisters–look breathtakingly glamorous, but in real life they were girl-next-door-wholesome and unaffected, and nice as could be.
Left to Right, front row: Ambika, Lalitha, Chandran, Ragini, my dad, Padmini, Sukumari. Ragini got stuck holding the camera case.
The gentleman on the left is Guru Gopalakrishnan, who sometimes danced with the sisters.
Lalitha (1930-1982) was the oldest of the sisters, in whose pioneering footsteps Padmini and Ragini followed. She got her start in films at age eight. My parents remembered her as quieter than the other two, with her own gentle mystique. My dad liked to recall the time she sat up all night with a sick kitten in her lap, willing it to live after everyone else had written it off for lost; the kitten recovered.
These pictures date from about 1954:
Here are Lalitha (left) and Ragini (right) in their expressive enactment of a dance drama, also in 1954:
On Youtube, you have to dig a bit to find Lalitha. In this excerpt from a 1949 Tamil movie, Vazhkai (“Life”) Lalitha and Padmini make a special dance appearance in a “play within a play.” (It starts at about 4:06.) Padmini plays the role of a village lad, complete with moustache and turban, driving fake oxen across a stage and showing off her comic skills. Lalitha is absolutely charming in the role of a fresh-faced country girl. The sisters (then teenagers) loved performing together, and it shows. Pure joy!