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Helen Biography

Helen Jairag Richardson Khan is a Hindi actress and dancer, best known for playing vamps and vixens in Bollywood movies of the 1960s, 70s and 1980s. She was famous for her performances in flamboyant dance sequences and cabaret numbers. The Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle frequently sang for Helen. She was known as the Cabaret Queen of India.

Early Life And Background

Helen was born in Harrow, London, United Kingdom to an Anglo-Indian (French) father and Burmese mother on October 21, 1939. She has a brother Roger and a sister Jennifer. Helen's father is French and her mother is Half spanish and Half Burmese.

Her father died during the Second World War. The family migrated to Mumbai in 1943 during World War II, but her mother's salary as a nurse was not enough, and Helen had to quit her schooling to support the family. Helen had a brother Roger and sister Jennifer.


Helen got her break when a family friend, an actress known as Cukoo, helped her find jobs as a chorus dancer in the films Shabistan and Awaara (1951). She was soon working regularly and was featured as a solo dancer in films like Alif Laila (1952) and Hoor-e-Arab (1953). Helen is mainly known for her western appearance in Indian movies. She was known to have natural auburn hair and brown/green eyes.

In 1958, she had her first major hit with her performance in the song "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" in Shakti Samanta's hit film, Howrah Bridge. She was in great demand after this, performing as a cabaret dancer and vamp in film after film.

She won nomination for the best supporting actress in 1965 for the movie 'Gumnaam'. She was never a great success in the few films in which she played the heroine or when she played dramatic roles such as the rape victim in Shakti Samanta's Pagla Kahin Ka (1970), but vamp roles and "item numbers" kept her busy through the 1960s.

She was known to have acted in 500 movies by 1972 which was a huge record for her. Her luck took a turn for the worse in the 1970s. Younger actresses were taking up 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. She also performed numerous stage shows in London, Paris and Hong Kong.

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 it presented Helen to the West as the undisputed star of Bollywood films, including her famous typewriter dance scene from "Bombay Talkie" the acclaimed Merchant Ivory film. A book about the movie star Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2003. The name of the book is the Life and Times of an H-Bomb.

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, Dostana, and the all-time hit Sholay. 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.

Helen retired from the screen for a number of years, but enacted in a few guest roles in 1999 and 2000. In Mohabbatein, she played 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.

Personal Life

Helen married Salim Khan, his second wife in 1980. They adopted a girl, Arpita.

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 on good terms with her.

Her brother, Roger passed away in the 1980s and her sister Jennifer is settled in New Delhi and is married to an Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force.

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