The popularity of the item numbers in Bollywood films has seen a steep rise in recent years. And without one in a film, it sometimes feels incomplete. However, it was none other than our very own Helen, who had popularized the item song trend in the 60s and 70s. Helen Jairag Richardson, born on 21st November 1939 to an Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother in Myanmar, she has acted in 500 films till date and is well known for being a popular dancer in yesteryear Bollywood films.
Helen was born in Burma. She lost her father in World War 2. In order to evade the Japanese invasion, her family consisting of herself, her brother and her mother left and trekked all the way to India. The condition of her family was pitiable. Hungry, injured, bruised and urgently requiring medical assistance, they trekked through the villages and jungles and received help from people in the way. With the help of British officers, her family completed their journey. Her family was hospitalized for two months. After their recovery, they moved to Kolkata. However, the young Helen had to abandon her schooling for supporting her family, as her mother's salary was inadequate, she worked as a hospital nurse.
From 1957 till 1973, Helen was living with P.N Arora, and she separated on 21st November 1973. In the year 1981, she married Salim Khan, the father of Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan and Sohail Khan. They adopted a girl Arpita. She is Salim Khan's second wife.
Her first break came in the early 50s, with films like 'Shabistan' and 'Awara', where she did chorus dancing. Her solo dancing started with 'Hoor-E-Arab' (1953), and continued with 'Alif Laila'(1954) and 'Baarish'. Her first big break came in the year 1957 with 'Howrah Bridge'. In the film she performed the song 'Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu'. Most of the times, the playback singing for her songs was done by Geeta Dutt. Her 1965 film 'Gumnaam' gained her a Filmfare Award nomination for best actress in supporting role. Her role of a rape victim is well known in the 1970 film 'Pagla Kahin Ka'. Through the 70s, she was seen in films like 'Don', 'Sholay', 'Dostana' and 'Immaan Dharam'. In 1979, she acted in 'Lahu Ke Do Rang' by Mahesh Bhatt, for which she won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award.
Though she officially took retirement in 1983, she has played supporting roles in films like 'Khamoshi: The Musical' (1996), 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' (1999) and 'Mohabbatein' (2000). In the year 1999, she was awarded the 'Filmfare lifetime achievement award'. She was also chosen for the Padma Shri award in the year 2009.
However, apart from her performance as an artist in Bollywood, she has also performed outside the industry.
She has performed in several stage shows across various cities including Paris and London. In 1973, she was seen in a half an hour documentary called 'Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls'. Author Jerry Pinto released a book on Helen in 2006, titled as 'The Life and Times of an H-Bomb' which won the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema' in the following year.