The singularly fabulous Bollywood sensation, Helen, makes a cameo in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. And why not? She appeared in over 500 Indian films during the second half of the 20th century, shimmering across the screen in a gyrating, hip-thrusting explosion of spangles. Her role, almost inevitably, was that of the wayward, Anglo-Indian vamp. (Helen Richardson Khan’s parents were English and Burmese.)
After her first eye-popping dance solo in Baarish (1957) Helen’s participation in Indian films of the era was a requirement for directors, who diverted action away from whatever the plot—whether thriller, love story or Western—in order for wicked Helen to appear and do her thing.
Tipsy and breathless in 1975’s Caravan, she rolls on the floor, and when her skirt catches on a nail, she lets it rip, and keeps dancing in a spangleed bra and mini. In the Western Sholay, she suddenly appears, a trembling, whirling bellydancer, gyrating her way around a campfire.
India’s first film, Alam Ara (1931) introduced song and dance to the screen in that country, though it had long been a tradition in the Indian culture. The next year the film Indrasbha included 69 songs. One historian claimed that only two Indian film ssince 1954 have been made without dance numbers. And on it goes….You won’t regret watching Helen set her sequins in motion in the clips below.