Helen, who defined the concept of the item number in the 1960s, and who is sorely missed by men of a certain generation, will soon be back on screen to the cheers of many. 69-years old, but you’d never believe it, Helen will be appearing in Rajiv Sharma’s Bachpan. “The script is amazing and I just saw the rushes of the film and liked it,” she said.
Helen, of Anglo-Burmese extraction, made her first appearance in Shabistan in 1951 when she was just 11 years old, but it was in Howrah Bridge in 1958 that she first made a big impact and became known as the vampish queen of Bollywood. One of her most successful early films was the magnificent China Town, which every student of Bollywood should make a point of seeing. In 1973, Merchant Ivory made a groundbreaking documentary about her life, Queen of the Nautch Girls, which first introduced Bollywood to many in the west. Helen won the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and though now largely retired still makes appearances from time to time, including last year’s crossover movie Marigold with Ali Lauter and Salman Khan.
Helen, of course, is the stepmother of Salman and Sohail Khan and she is proud of her family. “I’m quite content. My sons — Salman, Arbaaz and Sohail — are always there for me. Their parents — Salim and Salma Khan — are such wonderful people and so are their grandchildren. I think ours is the best family in the industry. The Khans are generous, respectful and I’m glad I’m part of this family.”
Helen is somewhat scathing of modern item girls. “Their clothes, their movements… so vulgar and unaesthetic,” she says. “They only know five or six steps and those, too, are just jhatkas and matkas. Some item girls, I don’t want to name them, they just can’t dance!! The choreographer should change the step if a dancer can’t do it rather then make them look funny on screen,” she adds.