Maybe it was the time of the day (mid-morning) but the petite woman, still in her nightdress and sans make-up, who opened the door was nothing like her on-screen avatar.

She could be anybody's sister, daughter or the girl next door. Many know Sudha Chandran for her extravagant make-up in teleserials.

She is, however, a world-renowned Bharatnatyam exponent despite having lost a leg in a gruesome road accident at a very young age.

Today, her tale of struggle, perseverance and success is part of Indian school curriculum.

“More than any of my achievements, I feel it's a real honour that children are learning about me, that I'm a source of inspiration,'' Chandran says.

I caught up with her in Dubai some time back and learnt she is more like the sister, daughter or girl next door than a drama queen.

Most people would have been daunted by the tragedy, taking baby steps to walk again. What made you resume dancing?

For the first few months after the accident in 1981, all I did was lie in a hospital bed and question why this happened to me. To date, I really don't have an answer.

I started believing in rebirth and that you gain or suffer because of the deeds in your past life. Even after about eight months, I was unsure from where I could restart my life.

The accident gave me a chance to discover myself, because, until then, I was a pampered and protected child. But as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining.

I found mine in the form of Dr Sethi, a specialist in artificial limbs and a recipient of the Magsaysay Award. Initially, there was no intention of dancing.

I just had to get back on my feet. But when I met him for a fitting of a Jaipur foot, the first thing I asked him was if I could dance. And he said “why not?'' with no hesitation at all.

So I thought it was really that easy. But it took me three years of physical and emotional suffering before I could actually make it happen.

I almost gave up many times because I could not take the pain. But I had somehow gained this inner strength that only intensified each time I fell.

The accident didn't just mature me physically — but mentally and emotionally.

People would say: “Why do you want to dance and cause yourself so much pain?''; “It's not worth it''; or “You're not destined to be a dancer, accept it.'' That's what I couldn't do — accept it.

The more they said these things, the more determined I would become. Being an only child, my parents had nurtured a lot of dreams for me. This was also my way of saying thanks to them.

Has it ever brought you down that you have a disability?

I am still the same, if not more energetic. My enthusiasm is greater and I also feel my dedication has increased.

With television, has dancing taken a backseat?

Not at all. I still do a lot of shows. I have a dance academy in Mumbai that my husband takes care of. And now we have started one in Pune and in Gujarat. So dance has in no way taken a backseat.

What or who inspires you?

Frankly speaking, it's my failures. They have been the most motivating factor in my life. If someone says it's beyond me, I just have to do it.

And my dedication and professionalism help me achieve. When people commend me on my success, I know I didn't just get it. I actually earned it.

I am also very spiritual. I may not believe in long-drawn rituals but I believe in a supernatural force that gives me strength. This can take the form of my mum, my father, my husband or my failures.

Despite a blockbuster debut with Naache Mayuri, why did you move from films to television?

Well, at the time, I was not being offered roles of my choice. Also, there was the “casting couch'', which I did not agree with. After Naache Mayuri, I was being offered the sisterly, aunty-type roles that didn't do justice to my talent.

Then television happened. My first role, that of Ramola Sikand in the serial Kaahin Kissii Roz, was in complete contrast to the emotional actress I am.

It was a huge hit and all credit goes to Ekta Kapoor, the producer of the serial. All women are born intuitive and Ekta has been bestowed with it. In fact, you asked me if someone inspired me — it would be her.

The amount she has achieved at such a young age is outstanding. She is dynamic.

Ramola Sikand set off a trend …

Oh, yes. The louder the make-up, the more popular she became. Initially, the channel producers would complain but that was the strength of not just the character but also the serial. It was Ekta's conviction that just kept it going. She believed it would work.

It also gave me a lot of confidence, because here I was, a very ordinary person, transformed into a style icon.

I had subconsciously started accepting the film industry's belief that I was suited to only the plain, sisterly roles and could never carry off a glamorous one.

Television has given me the opportunity to explore. Now all my roles come attached with a particular style and each one has been really appreciated.

Just as there's a woman behind every man's success, is there a man behind yours?

Yes, my father, my husband and my family. They have been my pillars of strength. Also, I think a lot of people prayed for my success. You know, they showered blessings on me from the heart.

So what next after dance, films and television?

I still have a lot of challenges to face in my present spheres. Things are happening for the moment. I have a lot of regional television and films on hand.

It's a fact that as you grow older, your roots start calling. I want to go back to where I started, to the things I have missed all this while.