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The titillating dance tracks of cabaret queen Padma Khanna – Birthday special

A contemporary of Helen, the yesteryear actress carved her own legend with sizzling dance numbers.

Mayur Lookhar

Helen once mocked the actresses of her heyday, saying all they did was sob while she had all the fun, dancing her way to glory. Heroes or villains, they all loved the Cabaret Queen, whom fans wanted to see in almost every film.

That era produced another sexy siren, Padma Khanna. She had learnt kathak from Pandit Birju Maharaj and started her career at the age of 12 in Bhojpuri cinema. Padma Khanna graduated to Hindi cinema in 1970 and struck gold with her maiden film, Johny Mera Naam (1970), though she was later seen mostly in C-grade entertainers.

As the actress turns 69 (10 March), we look back at some of her memorable dance numbers. Most of her songs were sung by pop queen Asha Bhosle.

'Husn Ke Lakhon Rang' – Johny Mera Naam (1970)

After bagging a blink-and-miss role in Heer Raanjha (1970), Padma Khanna was picked to be the dancing seductress in the song 'Husn Ke Lakhon Rang'. Both Johny Mera Naam and the song proved to be hits. Khanna had no qualms shedding some clothes for the role, going about her act nonchalantly. After such an explosive beginning, she was bound to be wooed by producers. Khanna was used as Meena Kumari’s double for mujra numbers in Pakeezah (1972).

'Yeh Aag Hai Ya Jawaani' – Gaddaar (1973)

Much before The Bangles learnt how to ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’, Khanna mesmerized us with this Egyptian-style dance number from the film Gaddaar that starred Vinod Khanna and Yogita Bali.

'Sajna Hai Mujhe Sajana Ke Liye' – Saudagar (1973)

This was one of the rare occasions when Khanna played the female lead. Saudagar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, had Padma Khanna playing a village belle. So fans got to see her in a different avatar, but Padma being Padma, couldn’t resist splashing around in the lake.

'Pyar Tujhe Aisa Karungi Sanam' – Kashmakash (1973)

With a sitar and tabla in the background, this was more a romantic melody than an 'item' number. You almost wonder what Padma Khanna is doing in such a track. However, 'Pyaar Tujhe Aisa Karungi Sanam' is among Asha Bhosle's finest numbers. The music was more traditional, yes, but Khanna's dress code was Western. The cabaret queen pulled out yet another titillating dance number.

'Raat Haseen Hai Pyaar Jawaan Hai' – Garibi Hatao (1973)

The film was called Garibi Hatao, or Remove Poverty. The film clearly did not succeed in its stated goal, seeing the poverty still prevalent in India, but Khanna surely enriched the men around her even with a sedate (by her standards) performance.

'Goom Gayi' – Anokhi Ada (1973)

Cabaret is often for the urban rich, but that does not mean rural India is averse to this form of entertainment. She may not be skimpily dressed here, but Khanna sure showed her anokhi ada (unique act) in this rural track from Anokhi Ada.

'Aisi Sham Na Kabhi Aayi Hai' – Veeru Ustad (1977)

An unheralded film with Dara Singh in the lead, not much is known about this film save for this peppy number featuring Padma Khanna and Prema Narayan. Watch out for the shenanigans of Joginder and the other villains who have nothing but lust in their eyes with the two damsels swaying around them.

'Pardey Main Kya Karein' – Teen Eekay (1979)

Joginder's antics here would have had even Jesus crossing himself. Joginder did his funny acts, but Padma Khanna's kinky winks and seductive lip biting simply melted your heart.

'Qadar Toone Na Jaani' – Noorie (1979)

Mujra was considered the bastion of Rekha, but Padma Khanna managed to dish out one of her own in the Farooq Shaikh and Poonam Dhillon-starrer. It would be unfair, of course, to compare the song and the lyrics to the golden tracks of Umrao Jaan, which came two years later, but Khanna looked goregous in her desi avatar. Connoisseurs of mujra would perhaps give this track a thumbs down, but as the title suggests, only die-hard Khanna fans knew her true worth.

'Hai Raat Pyaasi' – Chatpatee (1983)

Just have a look at this track and you will know why the film was called Chatpatee, which means spicy. There were not too many leading ladies in Hindi cinema then who justified the 'spicy' billing. Well, some things are best watched silently.