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Helen Biography

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).

In 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. She was 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.

In 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 Ivory film.

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 dancing. She also made a special appearance as Salman Khan's mother in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.



Bollywood Hollywood Actress © 2008.