LAST WEEK’S story on Bollywood’s first
sophisticated seductress, Helen, brought back a lot of memories.
Helen to me, has been the epitome of
the vamp that brought many a heroine to shame on the
Despite dancing to cabaret numbers in
some, what was then, skimpy and figure-hugging costumes,
she never once looked vulgar or made any of her dance
movements look cheap.
The minute she came on the screen,
everyone, be it an adult or child, enjoyed her
performance and there was a time, that a movie could not
be made without at least one dance scene with Helen.
She set the stage on fire, a kind that
warmed rather than burned.
In 1979, when I was a budding
columnist with Coastweek and still learning the ropes,
Helen, then a superstar, came to Mombasa for a stage
show, with some other artists.
I had the opportunity of meeting and
interviewing her, one of the very first interviews I
Heading to the Oceanic Hotel, I
arrived earlier than our appointed time and she came a
little late from her shopping trip to town.
As soon as she swept into the lobby
and knew I was waiting, she took me straight up to her
room and made me comfortable as she proceeded to remove
her make up in front of me.
Bollywood’s first sophisticated seductress Helen in
Mombasa with Coastweek’s Columnist Anjum Asodia in
Now these few acts would make an
Indian film star today shudder, and even in those days when
Indian film stars would keep their distance, stay aloof and
expect to be treated like royalty (and I met many after Helen).
This warmth and friendliness which was
second-nature to Helen just came through and we had a lovely
chat that afternoon.
We talked about her difficult
upbringing when she had to flee Burma with her small family and
come to India and start earning to feed her family at a very
At a time when nothing could be
imported into India, she confided how every time she went on a
foreign trip, especially for shootings or shows, she would buy
all her outfits and the special feathers which were Helen’s
hallmark, for her on-screen performances.
We met the next day, backstage after
her performance and she remembered me and hugged me warmly,
taking a picture and signing my autograph book.
Having interviewed many celebrities in
my career at Coastweek, I will definitely say that Helen was
among my top favourites and that is why that meeting 39 years
ago is still so fresh in my mind.