Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Who's That Girl? Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls



To some the beautiful burlesque dancer in my blog title may be a stranger but to millions of us Bollywood movie fans the beautiful H-Bomb Helen is one of the biggest stars in the world, starring in literally hundreds of films since her big break in 1951.



In my opinion her finest hour has to be performing to Asha Bhosle's Piya Tu Ab Aaja whilst knocking back whiskey, cage-dancing and ripping her skirt off in the 1971 movie Caravaan.



Watching this YouTube clip is guaranteed to make anybody smile. The make-up, the hair, the jewellery, the shoes, the sparkly underwear....I adore Helen.



Born in Burma on 21st October, 1939 to an Anglo-Indian Army officer and his Burmese wife, Helen Richardson moved to Bombay with her mother and two siblings after her father died in the Second World War. Her mother's salary as a nurse was insufficient to support her family so Helen left school to support her family becoming a chorus girl in the Bollywood movie industry at the age of 13.



In the mid-Twentieth Century movie industry no respectable Hindi actress would dare risk their reputation by performing scantily-clad or smoking, flirting with the opposite sex or drinking alcohol on screen, therefore the role of the movie vamp fell to Anglo-Indian and Jewish actresses. With Helen's beauty and outstanding dancing ability she was one of the most desirable vamps in the business.



Helen went on to star in over 500 Bollywood movies frequently performing to Asha Bhosle's songs (Brits will recognise Asha Bhosle's name from the 1997 Indie hit, Brimful of Asha by Cornershop). In 1973 Merchant Ivory filmed the documentary Helen, Queen of The Nautch Girls to honour of her amazing career. A book was published by Indian journalist, Jerry Pinto in 2006 entitled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb which went on to receive The National Film Award for the Best Book on Cinema in 2007.



Still beautiful at 39, performing Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana with co-star Ambitabh Bachchan in the 1978 gangster movie, Don.




22 comments:

jaljen said...

Beautiful woman. How she manages to convey personality and character in a still photograph! Amazing.

Loo xx from Jumbles and Pompoms said...

Fascinating post and those clips were wonderful.

Tanvi said...

What a lovely post! I agree with you Helen is the ultimate vamp of Hindi Movies. But had great style and personality. Everyone still loves her. Now she is remembered more for her dancing skills than a vamp [which is a good thing I guess!] ... Thanks for dropping by my blog and your lovely comment. That was so sweet. You have a pretty unique blog yourself and it's fascinating to know you have so much interest in Indian Movies :) Will definitely be coming back!

Dusk said...

Oh my GOD!!!!!!! As I saw the title of this post I immediately thought of 'Don' so I'm chuffed to see that clip!!!
...I LOVE Helen...and ohhhhhh let's not forget this classic...

Mehbooba!

You are as fabulous as Helen, you Vixen you!!

Annie xx TheFeltFairy said...

beautiful! burlesque is so erotic, very subtle these days xx

Sangu said...

Should I be embarrassed that I'm Indian and hadn't heard of her until today? :-)

To be honest, I'm not a Bollywood fan, but I love the videos you linked us to and this post was wonderful to read! I agree with Dusk, you are as fabulous as she is.

Bonnie said...

Honestly, Vix, I thought that was you in the header!

What a fascinating woman, very Kitten With a Whip! You're always educating me Vix, never heard of Helen before and I didn't know what a Nautch girl was had to look it up on Wikipedia! She certainly was a wild little minx!

xxxx B.

Alex said...

I can't get onto Youtube on this pc so I can't watch the videos but then I can't comment from the laptop at home, so I'll comment now and watch them later. Convoluted much?

I know sod all about Bollywood so this post was really interesting. She sounds like quite a character!

Audrey Allure said...

She's beautiful!

bollywoodstylediaries said...

Love this post. She was an amazing dancer and a unique personality- I dont think there will be anyone like her ever!! I think her best song is Mehbooba from Sholay..

Roo Paprika said...

What a beauty! I'm afraid my knowledge of burlesque goes no further than Dita Von Teese but I think this lady is a far more intreging performer

Martwa Marta said...

i haven't heard of her before, to be frank! thanks for sharing! as she is so ultra feminine!

Indie.Tea said...

They used a Helen song in the beginning of the movie "Ghostworld"...very cute.
I'm Indian (I mean I was born and raised in CA but my background is Indian) I'm familiar with Bollywood (but I don't watch many Bollywood films anymore). I didn't know Helen was 39 when she did that movie. She looks amazing!

Helga! said...

She is one hell of a hottie!!Thank you for introducing me to her,as I had never heard of her!Truly an inspiration!
LOVE Helga xxxXXXxxx

Alexandra Mason said...

I love those clips, thanks for sharing xxx

Lavender hearts said...

I loved finding out about Helen. My OH is anglo Burmese. It is a nice combination - his grandmother was (and still is) an absolute beauty at 75.

Eartha Kitsch said...

She's amazing. I didn't know that much about her either until your post. Thanks for sharing!

kVk and The Shop Time Forgot said...

How freaky, that is the first youtube clip that has ever played properly for me. I must be meant to see it. Brimful of Asha is one of my favourite-ever songs too. Great opera outfit, the dress really suits you. I used to have a waist like yours but now I drink too much :)

Alice said...

What a beautiful woman and such an inspiration x

dvj said...

Amazingly amazing! Had no clue you loved bollywood and Helen so much! She was a vixen in the true sense!
p.s - I love you philosophy. 'A day without dressing up is a day wasted!'

Pull Your Socks Up! said...

I needed little convincing that I would love Helen too after seeing her in the clips - isn't it great when the guy turns up in the first clip dressed as a matador?! I'm on a Helen movie quest now. I grew to love Bolllywood while growing up in Fiji - I put my love of "overdressing" down to the unashamed sartorial pride of the Indians there. xoxoxo

Krista Gassib said...

I can see why you love her. Chris just said she reminds him of you. She's a total babe just like you!
Xxoo