Helen Richardson Khan is a Bollywood dancer and actress of
Anglo-Burmese extraction, best known for playing vamps and vixens in
Bollywood movies of the 1960s and 70s. She was famous for her
performances in flamboyant dance sequences and cabaret numbers. The
Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle frequently sang for Helen.
was born on October 21, 1939 in Burma to an Anglo-Burmese/Anglo-Indian
father and Burmese mother. A family friend, an actress known as Cukoo,
helped her find jobs as a chorus dancer in the films Shabistan and
Awaara (1951). Helen was soon working regularly, and was featured as a
solo dancer in films like Alif Laila (1952) and Hoor-e-Arab (1953).
1958, she had her first major hit with her performance in the song
"Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" in O.P. Nayyar's hit film, Howrah Bridge. She
was in great demand after this, performing as a cabaret dancer and vamp
in film after film. She was known as the Cabaret Queen.
never a great success in the few films in which she played the heroine,
but vamp roles and "item numbers" kept her busy through the 1960s. Her
luck took a turn for the worse in the 1970s. Younger actresses were
taking the vamp roles. Also, changing rules for Bollywood heroines made
it possible for sexy young things in go-go boots to do the cabaret
numbers and play the heroine. Helen fell into financial difficulties.
1973, "Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls" was released. A 30-minute
documentary film from Merchant Ivory films, the idea for the
documentary came from Anthony Korner, an associate of Merchant Ivory's
in the period, and now the publisher of Art Forum. It was directed and
narrated by him, but the scenario was devised by Ivory. The subject of
the film, which cost a modest $17,000 to make, is the most popular
dancer in Bombay musical films -- and which presented Helen to the west
as the undisputed star of Bollywood film, including her famous
typewriter dance scene from "Bombay Talkie" the acclaimed Merchant
Writer Salim Khan came to her rescue. He helped her get
good roles in some of the movies he was co-scripting with Javed Akhtar:
Imaam Dharam, Don, and Dostana. This led to a demanding role in Mahesh
Bhatt's film Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), for which she won a Filmfare Best
Supporting Actress award.
Soon afterwards, she married Salim Khan,
as his second wife. The arrangement was said to have been tense at
first, but Salim's children by his first wife (including current
Bollywood actors Salman, Arbaaz, and Sohail Khan) are now said to be on
good terms with their stepmother.Helen and Salim Khan have an adopted
daughter named Arpita.
Helen retired from the screen for a number of
years, but made a few "guest star" appearances in 1999 and 2000. In
Mohabbatein, she plays the prim and proper head of a girls' school, who
is pulled out onto a dance floor and surprises everyone with her lively
One surprising fact is that though Helen seemed to show a
lot of skin in her cabaret routines, but was in fact often wearing a
translucent or flesh-coloured fabric to give that effect.
documentary film, "Desperately Seeking Helen" by Eisha Marjara is an
autobiographical tale of an immigrant experience in Canada. "Helen" is
a reference to the dancer Helen and by extension, India's dream
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