Helen : The Golden Girl

>> Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Came across this beautiful post on the documentary ‘Helen: Queen of The Nautch Girls’ on bollyviewer’s blog . I have been looking for this documentary for a longtime (though going through the only clip I could see its bit snobbish, bollyviewer vouchs for this too) . Unluckily by the time I reached her blog, the videos were removed from youtube (‘due to terms of use violation’ or so they say).

I learnt about this Documentary while reading Helen’s (unofficial) Biography by Jerry Pinto - Helen The Life and Times of An H-Bomb, a book which I bought because I was really interested to know more about Helen Ji & her journey from being a junior artist to becoming an indispensable performer for Bollywood, but sadly the book didn’t had much about Helen but was full with author’s personal and rather biased grudge against the film industry.

IMHO the book would be a better read, if inspite of citing Helen and the characters played by her, one after another just to prove Hindi Film Industry/Film Makers have often used (Roman) Catholic Characters played by her to depict Western Immorality (a topic which I felt was quite irrelevant and inane), Pinto should have narrated Helen’s Career Graph and her personal life; as the book was supposed to be on Helen, not on the writer’s observations of socio-economic infrastructure prevailing in the film industry in 40s & 50s.

Funnily, the book was Helen's Biography and Pinto was more interested in describing how/why her mentor choreographer Peter Lewis (who is singer/composer Leslie Lewis’ father) changed his name to P.L.Raj to survive in a ‘Hindu Chauvinistic’ Film Industry.
(For latecomers P.L.Raj was the guy who choreographed almost all the Classic Helen Hits like O Haseena Zulfonwali (Teesri Manzil 1966), Mungda (Inkaar 1977), Mehbooba (Sholay 1975), Yeh Mera Dil (Don 1978) etc.)

Anyway, much later I came to know that Jerry wrote the book without being able to meet Helen as she wasn’t interested in a book on her life.

There are two documentaries on Helen, where one can try to catch a glimpse of her off-screen persona but sadly both of these are not available in India.

  1. Merchant Ivory’s Documentary Helen: Queen of the Nautch Girls (which was shot & produced while shooting for Bombay Talkie (1970), it was distributed as an additional feature with Bombay Talkie DVD, sadly Indian DVD Version doesn’t have this Documentary)
  2. Nasreen Munni Kabir’s Helen: Always in Step , in which she was interviewed by Khalid Mohamed (and I have read somewhere Jerry himself saying – “it is clear that she did not enjoy playing herself in front of the camera (in Helen:Always in Step ), even though she comes across as warm and charming and unaffected.”).

After a long search on youtube I found this clip from Helen: Queen of the Nautch Girls, enjoy:

PS: If I remember correctly in the year 2000 there was this show called Helen: The Golden Girl, where all her celebrated hits were performed by actresses like Raveena, Isha Koppikar, Urmila etc. Listen to the original Helen Tracks they performed on here.


Vidooshak August 27, 2008 at 4:13 PM  

Every time I see Don and Sholay, the character played by Helen is the one that lingers long after the movie is over. I doubt if Bollywood will ever be able to celebrate another "side line" genius, like the adwitya Mehmood and Helen. A very very apt post to kickstart this blog.

You know what I'd like to read next, already, don't you?

Bollyviewer August 28, 2008 at 2:40 AM  

I grew up watching Helen songs but never appreciated her dancing skills till I grew up and realised that Bollywood never produced another dancer like her. Its sad that she also got typecast as the "loose/wicked white woman".

"Pinto was more interested in describing how/why her mentor choreographer Peter Lewis (who is singer/composer Leslie Lewis’ father) changed his name to P.L.Raj to survive in a ‘Hindu Chauvinistic’ Film Industry."

I think this had more to do with film-going public than the "industry". In the years before and just after the Partition, Hindu-Muslim tensions persuaded many Muslim leading men and women to adopt Hindu names - for e.g. Dilip Kumar, Ajit, Madhubala were all Muslims with Hindu screen names. Now ofcourse, nobody need bother to hide their religion to appeal to the public!

Toonfactory August 28, 2008 at 10:34 AM  

@ Vidooshak - Thanks, its always a pleasure to have you here Sir.

@ Bollyviewer - I second your thought :) keep visiting

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