Happy Birthday, #Helen (21/11).
Helen’s foray into Bollywood began with a little help from a family friend, actress Cuckoo. Starting with group dance roles in movies like “Shabistan” (1951) and “Awaara” (1951), Helen quickly became a regular in the industry. Her talent shone through, earning her solo dance spots in films such as “Alif Laila” (1954) and “Hoor-e-Arab” (1955). Notably, she also appeared as a street singer in “Mayurpankh” (1954).
A significant breakthrough came in 1958 when Helen was just 19. Her performance in the song “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” from the film “Howrah Bridge” captured hearts. Sung by Geeta Dutt, this song marked the start of a series of successful projects for Helen. The 1960s and 1970s saw her rise to fame, with Geeta Dutt lending her voice for many of Helen’s performances. During this period, Helen often portrayed characters who would perform a song or dance and then exit the plot, paving the way for the film’s lead actress.
By 1969, Helen had become a household name, even gracing the cover of Filmfare Magazine. Another prominent singer, Asha Bhosle, frequently provided playback for Helen’s performances, especially during the 1960s and early 1970s. Helen’s versatility wasn’t just limited to dance; she was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1965 for her role in “Gumnaam”. Her dramatic roles in “China Town” and “Sachaai” (1969), alongside Shammi Kapoor, were box office hits. She also portrayed a compelling character in “Chhote Sarkar” (1974), co-starring Shammi Kapoor and Sadhana. Helen’s hit dance numbers included ‘Suku Suku’ in “Junglee”, ‘Yamma Yamma’ in “China Town”, and several others.
Helen’s fame wasn’t confined to the Indian cinema; she performed on stages in London, Paris, and Hong Kong. In 1973, “Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls”, a 30-minute documentary by Merchant Ivory Films, highlighted her life and career. This was followed by Jerry Pinto’s book “The Life and Times of an H-Bomb” in 2006, which won a National Film Award. Writer Salim Khan played a key role in Helen’s career, casting her in several films he co-scripted. Her performance in “Lahu Ke Do Rang” (1979) earned her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress. In recognition of her contributions, Helen received the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.
Though she officially retired in 1983, Helen made occasional appearances in films like “Khamoshi: The Musical” (1996) and “Mohabbatein” (2000). She also appeared alongside her real-life step-son #SalmanKhan in “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and in “Humko Deewana Kar Gaye” (2006). Her contributions were further acknowledged when she was selected for the Padma Shri in 2009, alongside Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar. Helen also served as a judge in the semifinals and finals of India’s 2009 “Dancing Queen” television series.