Punnu wrote on 11 Aug 2008
Helen Richardson Khan was born on October 21,1939 in Burma to an Anglo-Burmese/Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother. Helen had to quit her schooling as her mother's salary as a nurse wasn't enough. Helen had a brother Roger and sister Jennifer.
With the help of a family friend, an actress Cukoo, helped Helen get the work of a chorus dancer in the films Shabistan(1951) and Awaara(1951). She soon started working regularly and featured as a solo dancer in films like Alif Laila(1952) and Hoor-e-Arab(1953).
She had her first major hit with her performane in the song “Mera naam chin chin chu...” in O.P.Nayyar's hit film Howrah Bridge(1958). This song made Helen very famous and as a result she worked as a cabaret dance and vamp in films after films. She soon became known as Cabaret Queen.
Helen could never get the same success as heroine as she had got through vamp roles and item numbers.In 1960's her success only kept increasing with films by films. Her luck though took a bad turn in 1970's as younger actresses were taking the vamp roles.Also,new changing Bollywood meant that the actress could herself play the cabaret number in the film and hence removing the need of specialist cabaret dancer in the film.Helen even fell into financial difficulties. Merchant Ivory Films released a 30 minute documentary film “Helen,Queen of the Nautch Girls” in 1973.The film was directed and narrated by Anthony Korner while the scenario was devised by Ivory.The film's subject was about the most popular dancer in Bombay musical films presenting Helen to the west as the undisputed star of the Bollywood films which also included her famous typewriter dance scene from Bombay Talkie(1970). Helen got very good support by writer Salim Khan who helped her get some good roles in the movies he was co-scripting with Javed Akhtar like Imaam Dharam(1977), Don(1978), Dostana(1980) and Sholay(1975).This comeback of Helen led to a demanding role in Mahesh Bhatt's film Lahu Ke Do Rang(1979). Helen retired from the bollywood screen for a number of years but made a few Guest Appearances in 1999 and 2000.In Mohabbatein(2000),she played the prim and proper head of a girl's school who is pulled out onto a dance floor and surprises everyone with her lively dancing.She also made a special appearance as Salman Khan's mother in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam(1999). Her last film was Marigold(2007) in which she played the role of grandmother of Salman Khan.
Penguin India,one of the biggest book publishing houses in India,wrote a book on the life of Helen.The book is titled “Helen: The Life and the Times of an H-Bomb? And is penned down by the famous writer Jerry Pinto. The book takes us through the journey of Helen's life,who entered the film industry in 1952, as a chorus girl. It talks about how Helen who happens to be a refugee of French-Burmese parentage was such a big success in Bollywood. The book makes an interesting read as it explores the reasons why the otherwise conservative families sat through and even enjoyed her 'cabarets' and what actually made Helen so desirable without any feeling of embarrassment.
She won Best Supporting Actress filmfare award for Lahu Ke Do Rang(1979). She was rewarded with Lifetime Achievement Filmfare Award in 1999.
Helen married Salim Khan as his second wife.They have an adopted daughter named Arpita while Salim's children by his first wife(Salman,Arbaaz and Sohail Khan) have good terms with their stepmother. Helen's brother Roger passed away in the 80's while her sister Jennifer settled in New Delhi and married an Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force.