Padmini was born to Gopala Pilla, Saraswathiyamma. Her sisters, Lalitha and Ragini, were also well known film actresses. Together, the three were known as the Travancore sisters. Padmini and her sisters learnt bharathanatyam from Thiruvidaimarudur Mahalingam Pillai. They learnt Kathakali and Kerala Natanam styles of dancing from dancer Guru Gopinath. N.S. Krishnan after noticed her performance in Parijatha Pushpapaharanam, he cast her as heroine in his own production Manamagal. At the age of 14, Padmini was cast as the dancer in the Hindi film Kalpana in 1948. She made her debut in Tamil film was Ezhai Padum Padu, released in 1950. Padmini starred with several of the most well-known actors in Indian film, including Sivaji Ganesan, M. G. Ramachandran, N. T. Rama Rao, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Rajkumar, Gemini Ganesan and S. S. Rajendran. She appeared with Sivaji Ganesan in 59 films. Her most famous was Thillana Mohanambal, a Tamil film. Some of her noted Tamil films include Thanga Padhumai, Anbu, Kaattu Roja, Thillana Mohanambal, Vietnam Veedu, Edhir Paradhathu, Mangayar Thilakam and Poove Poochudava. She also acted in Malayalam films include Prasanna, Snehaseema, Vivaahitha, Adhyaapika, Kumara Sambhavam, Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu, Vasthuhara and Dolar. In two of her popular Bollywood films — Mera Naam Joker and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai — she was paired with Raj Kapoor. She did another film with Raj Kapoor AashiQ (1962). Her other Bollywood films include Payal (1957), Afsana (1966), Vaasna (1968), Chanda Aur Bijli (1969) and Babubhai Mistry's Mahabharat (1965). She also acted in a Indian-Soviet film Journey Beyond Three Seas. She got married to Ramachandran, a U.S.-based physician. She settled in the United States and in 1977 opened her classical dance school in New Jersey, the Padmini School of Fine Arts. Today, her school is considered as one of the largest Indian classical dance institutions in America. She died of a heart attack at the Chennai Apollo Hospital on 24 September 2006. She is survived by a son, who is settled in the United States.