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The Life and Times of Helen

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By: Praveen Lance Fernandes, IndiaFM

Monday, May 22, 2006

With books coming out by the dozen on Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Sholay and Aishwarya Rai, a book on Helen is something really refreshing to read especially when it is written by Jerry Pinto. For someone who has followed his prior books and articles, one would really expect thorough research and passion from him. And that is what he does exactly. A time where a lot of books are written haphazardly with little study, this one is definitely one book for all film buffs.

Helen - The original sophisticated seductress of Indian Cinema. Though there were many like her before, there is no doubt that one still tends to remember her whether that person belonged to her reigning era or not. To refresh your memory, Jerry Pinto takes us on a trip down memory lane. However, if you are expecting juicy tittle-tattle from her personal life, you can give this book a skip. The author clearly states that he was unable to meet Helen while writing this book so in a way the line 'The life and times of an H-bomb' is misleading.

One wonders what kind of approach Pinto took while writing this book. With almost 700 movies of Helen to locate, watch and then categorize; it must have been a mammoth task to complete and total kudos to the author for doing it with elan.

The book begins with a very brief background of Helen and her steady foray into films. Pinto has then given us a chapter wise account of Helen's films and dance numbers. Mind you this is not just her filmography but the various reasons of her doing things that she did.

For instance: The author examines reasons why Helen didn't get enough lead roles in her career despite being a pretty face and an avid actor and dancer. A couple of rationale explanations - One: Her name being foreign. Two: She was portrayed as a Britisher in many films though she had a French, Burmese and Spanish background. After Independence, most directors tried to capitalize on the oppressions the Indians faced during the British rule and so Helen was one of the main victims here. She could not win the heart of the leading man because she wasn't the traditionally sari clad, long haired Hindu virgin as the woman who romances the hero is supposed to be like.

Though this book is based on Helen, Pinto does get into details of the mindset of the cinematic audience of the 50's to the 80's. Sexist, Racist, Purist - the observation is note-worthy. The way in which the author gives us a symmetric view of the golden era of Indian cinema is something to be applauded. The author, never once puts Helen in bad light as one might expect for her cabarets, etc. According to him and rightly so, the vamp was an institution in itself and Helen was the one who defined her in Indian Cinema.

One drawback of the book is that it tends to get monotonous after a point of time. Though he does give good examples, halfway through the book, it tends to get cliched. Taking nothing away from the author, he tried to include a bit too much of the same thing to an extent. Also for someone whose popular videos are available easily, one would have expected a few more pictures in the book.

However, for a movie buff, this book is a joy to read as it takes you down a path you might have trodden or have heard from over the years.

Priced very reasonably, it definitely is a must buy for the regular reader engrossed even remotely to cinema. Though Helen did not co-operate during the writing of this book, it will be one memorable experience for her as she lives her professional life once again; this time through the eyes of a writer. 

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