Helen (actress)

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Helen at Kallista Spa opening.jpg
Helen in 2013
Helen Ann Richardson

(1938-11-21) 21 November 1938 (age 82)
Nationality Indian
  • Actress
  • dancer
Years active1951–present
Prem Narayan Arora
(m. 1957;div. 1974)

(m. 1981)
Awards Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress
Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award
Honours Padma Shri (2009)

Helen Ann Richardson Khan (born Helen Ann Richardson; 21 November 1938), known mononymously as Helen, is an Indian actress and dancer. She has appeared in over 700 films, [1] making her a prolific performer in Hindi cinema. She is known for her supporting, character roles and guest appearances in a career spanning seventy years.


Helen has received two Filmfare Awards, [1] and is often cited as one of the most popular nautch dancers of her time. [2] In 2009, Helen was awarded with the Padma Shri by the Government of India. [3] She was the inspiration for four films and a book. [4]

Early life and background

Helen Ann Richardson was born on 21 November 1938 in Rangoon, Burma to an Anglo Indian father and a Burmese mother. [5] Her father's name was George Desmier and her mother's name was Marlene. She has a brother named Roger and a sister named Jennifer. Their father died during World War II. The family then trekked to Dibrugarh of Assam in 1943 in order to escape from the Japanese occupation of Burma. Helen told Filmfare during an interview in 1964:

...we trekked alternately through wilderness and hundreds of villages, surviving on the generosity of people, for we were penniless, with no food and few clothes. Occasionally, we met British soldiers who provided us with transport, found us refuge and treated our blistered feet and bruised bodies and fed us. By the time we reached Dibrugarh in Assam, our group had been reduced to half. Some had fallen ill and been left behind, some had died of starvation and disease. My mother miscarried along the way. The survivors were admitted to the Dibrugarh hospital for treatment. Mother and I had been virtually reduced to skeletons and my brother's condition was critical. We spent two months in hospital. When we recovered, we moved to Calcutta, and sadly my brother died there due to smallpox". [6]

She quit her schooling to support her family because her mother's salary as a nurse was not enough to feed a family of four. [7] In a documentary called Queen of the Nautch girls, Helen said she was 19 years old in 1957 when she got her first big break in Howrah Bridge .


Helen was introduced to Bollywood when a family friend, an actress known as Cuckoo, helped her find jobs as a group dancer in the films Shabistan (1951) and Awaara (1951). She was soon working regularly and was featured as a solo dancer in films such as Alif Laila (1954) and Hoor-e-Arab (1955). She also featured as Street singer in film Mayurpankh (1954).

She got her major break in 1958, aged 19, when she performed on the song "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" in Shakti Samanta's film, Howrah Bridge , which was sung by Geeta Dutt. After that, offers started pouring in throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During her initial career, Geeta Dutt sang many songs for her. In the plot of many of the films of this period, Helen performs a song or dance then is killed, leaving the film's "good woman" available for the hero. [8]

Helen in 1969, posing for Filmfare Magazine Helen from Filmfare Magazine, 1969.jpg
Helen in 1969, posing for Filmfare Magazine

The Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle also frequently sang for Helen, particularly during the 1960s and the early 1970s. She was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award in 1965 for her role in Gumnaam . She played dramatic roles in films like China Town and Sachaai starring Shammi Kapoor which went on to be very successful at the box office. She also played a sensitive character in the film Chhote Sarkar (1974) starring Shammi Kapoor and Sadhana. With Shammi Kapoor she did many hit dance numbers like 'Suku suku' in Junglee, ' Yamma yamma' in Chinatown, 'O haseena zulfonwali' in Teesri Manzil, 'Hai pyar ka hi naam' in Singapore, and 'Muqabla humse na karo' in Prince.

She performed onstage in London, Paris, and Hong Kong. In 1973, Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls, a 30-minute documentary film from Merchant Ivory Films, was released. Anthony Korner directed and narrated the film. A book about Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2006, titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, [9] which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007. Writer Salim Khan helped her get roles in some of the films he was co-scripting with Javed Akhtar: Imaan Dharam , Don , Dostana , and Sholay . This was followed by a role in Mahesh Bhatt's film Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), for which she won a Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. In 1999 Helen was given India's Filmfare lifetime achievement award.

Helen officially retired from movies in 1983, but she has since then appeared in a few guest roles such as Khamoshi: The Musical (1996) and Mohabbatein (2000). She also made a special appearance as the mother of real-life step-son Salman Khan's character in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam . She also appeared in Humko Deewana Kar Gaye in 2006.

Helen was selected for the Padma Shri awards of 2009 along with Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar. She appeared as a judge in the semifinals and finals of India's 2009 Dancing Queen television series.

Personal life

Helen standing with Salim Khan in 2012 Helen-SalimKhan.jpg
Helen standing with Salim Khan in 2012

Helen's first marriage was in 1957 to film director Prem Narayan Arora of Dil Daulat Duniya fame, who was 27 years older than her. She divorced him in 1974. [10] In 1981, Helen married Salim Khan, a prominent Bollywood screenplay writer. Khan was already married and the father of four children; Helen joined the Khan family and had a large role (along with Khan and his first wife Salma) in keeping the family united. All of Helen's step-children have bonded closely with her, and Helen is almost invariably accompanied in public appearances by Salma Khan, Salim's first wife. Helen is a Christian. [11]

Awards and honors

Selected filmography

See also

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  1. 1 2 Jerry Pinto (1 March 2006). Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb. Penguin Books India. ISBN   978-0-14-303124-6 . Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  2. Mukherjee, Madhurita (3 February 2003). "Revamping Bollywood's sexy vamps". The Times of India . Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  3. "Helen, Ash, Akshay named for Padma Shri". Hindustan Times. 26 January 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  4. "Helen". OutlookIndia. 17 April 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  5. "I have no problems with the item no". santabanta.com. 24 January 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  6. "Helen Upperstall profile". Upperstall.com. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  7. "Helen Richardson". liveindia.com. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  8. Basu, Anustup (2013), ""The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships": Helen and Public Femininity in Hindi Film", in Sen, Meheli; Basu, Anustup (eds.), Figurations in Indian Film , New York City: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 139–157, ISBN   978-1-349-33209-0
  9. Rediff Interview with Jerry Pinto, daijiworld.com, 29 March 2006.
  10. https://m.imdb.com/name/nm0374974/trivia
  11. "Salman Khan's heart-warming family story". Emirates 24/7 . 25 July 2015.
  12. "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2015.