Padma Lakshmi had never even heard of Sharpe before she auditioned for the role of Madhuvanthi in the latest epic adventure. "I had never seen a Sharpe, nor even heard of the series!" she admits. "I hadn't a clue, but then again growing up in the States there's no reason I would have. But I had so much fun playing Madhuvanthi. She's such a juicy character. She's the girl everybody wants to play!"
Actress, model, cookery expert and writer Padma Lakshmi, also married to the author Salman Rushdie, travels all over the world for her work. However it was especially rewarding to film in a new part of India. Padma explains, "I am from the south of India. I was born in Delhi, my family is Keralan and I was bought up in Madras and Manhattan. I wasn't familiar with Rajasthan before I went here to film. It was just as exotic for me as the rest of the British cast and crew. It is very different from the south, even the landscapes. Where we filmed around Jaipur and Jodhpur it is very brown and red, a desert area, whereas south India is very lush and green and tropical."
Describing her character she says: "She's sexy, capricious and razor sharp. Sensual, charming but Machiavellian. Everyone sees her as ambitious but I think she is more interested in her own survival. Madhuvanthi was probably a girl who was sold into the royal concubine when she was 12 or 13. Here she was trapped in the harem of this kingdom, she is not of royal blood, she's basically a glorified prostitute and she had to use whatever means to look after herself. The only way she could do this was to gain the king's favour, so she was his property and no one else could touch her. As regent she is fighting to keep her kingdom from being conquered by a foreign power. She was made regent by the king because she is smart, just as smart as a man, and she is entrusted as caretaker of his kingdom. She is a powerful woman."
Padma was fascinated by the story and it prompted her to look into the country's history in a new way. "When I got the role I went to research the character and discovered that it wasn't so rare, even in this patriarchal society, for a woman to rule as supreme leader of certain kingdoms. Just by surfing the internet I learnt about four or five such women who were either wives or consorts or concubines who became rulers and held out against the British."
Padma can soon be seen in the movie The Ten Commandments in which she plays the Queen of Egypt. "I don't know why I am cast as such strong women. I've never stopped to analyse it. But I'm thankful because you get more exciting roles. I would rather play my role in Sharpe than anyone else's – except Sean's! I'd love to play a female version of Sharpe. I have often thought how great it would be to have a series about a group of female India bandits. We would be like Asterix holding out against the Romans but in this case against the British. A gang lead by a sexy woman on horseback, like the Lara Croft of India."
But Padma is also keen to portray more modern heroines. I'd like to play a lawyer, a doctor or even a grocery check out girl. A regular, every day heroine. It's nice to dress up and say wonderfully dramatic lines, but I'd relish a role where I could wear trainers!"