Helen Jairag Richardson, a dancer (Anglo-Burmese descent) and Hindi film actress, has given her great moments to the Indian cinema through various hit movies on the box office. Throughout her Bollywood career, she has worked in more than 500 films. She was the famous and number one item song dancer of her time.
Full name: Helen Jairag Richardson
Birth Name: Helen Richardson
Born: on 21st of November in 1938, at Burma
Occupation: Actress, Dancer
Years active: from 1951 till present
Spouse: Salim Khan (from 1981 till present)
Children: Arpita Khan (adopted)
- Salman Khan
- Arbaaz Khan
- Sohail Khan
Brother: Richard Jairag, Roger Jairag
Sister: Jennifer Richardson
Biography of Helen
Born as Helen Jairag Richardson, Helen is an Indian Film actress and dancer who became quite known for playing vamps and vixens in Bollywood Hindi films of 1960s, 70s and 80s. She was recognized for her flamboyant dance sequences and cabaret numbers. She is also famous as the item number dancer of that time. At times, she was given a sobriquet as the Cabaret queen of India. Generally, playback singer Asha Bhosle used to give voice to her item numbers. Four films have been made and a book has been published inspired by the life of Helen.
Early Life and Background:
Helen was born to an Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother in Burma on November 21, 1938. She has two siblings, a brother Roger and a sister Jennifer. Helen’s father died during Second World War and the family migrated to Mumbai in 1943 to escape the Japanese invasion on Burma. Her mother was working as a nurse but her salary was not enough to feed the family. Therefore, Helen left her schooling to work in order to support the family. Helen was just 19 years old when she got her first break in Howrah Bridge.
Helen and her family had gone through many hardships. Helen discussed about it with a magazine and said, “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”.
Career of Helen
Helen entered into the film industry with the help of a family friend who was also an actress Cukoo. Cukoo helped Helen to perform as a chorus dancer in films like Shabistan and Awaara. Her chorus dancer job continued for few years and she even gave solo dancing performances in Alif Laila and Hoor-e-Arab and also the popular song “Mr. John O Baba Khan” in Baarish.
Helen was naturally gifted with western appearance having golden-brown hair and green/brown eyes. With this appearance, Helen fetched many roles all through her life.
Till now, Helen was given less important roles. However, she got her first major break with the film Shakti Samantha’s Howrah Bridge, wherein she performed on the hit song “mera naam chin chin chu” sung by Geeta Dutt. The songs gave her overnight recognition and she was in huge demand to perform as a cabaret dancer or vamps in the upcoming films. In the initial career of Helen, it was Geeta Dutt who sung many songs for her. After that, Asha bhosle used to sing songs for Helen mostly in 1960s and 70s.
In 1965, she did the movie Gumnaam for which she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress. Though she played role of heroine and some dramatic roles like that of rape victim in Shakti Smanata’s Pagla Kahin Ka but she was busier with vamp roles and item numbers throughout the 1960s decade.
By 1972, she had worked in around 500 films which was huge record for Helen herself. However, the decade of 1970s brought bad luck for Helen. Now, young actresses were replacing her in roles of vamps and also Bollywood roles were changed so that it was possible for heroine to perform item numbers in sexy go-go boots. Helen rarely got a chance in any form and this put her in financial difficulties. To overcome it, she performed numerous stage countries in countries like London, Paris, and Hong Kong.
Salim Khan, the famous writer, helped Helen get roles in movies which he was co-scripting with Javed Akhtar. A few of them to name are Imaan Dharam, Don, Dostana and not to forget Sholay. With Sholay, she fetched a demanding role in Mahesh Bhatt’s Lahu Ke Do Rang in 1979. Helen garnered Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1999, Helen was honored with India’s Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. She almost retired from the film screen after 1983 except for some guest roles in few films. One of which was in Mohabbatein in which she played Prim and proper head of Girls school who seems to be strict but then surprises everybody with her lovely dance. Apart from this, she appeared in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam along with her step son Salman khan.
In 2006, she appeared in Humko Deewana Kar Gaye.
In 2009, she was selected for Padma Shri along with Aishwarya rai and Akshay Kumar.
In 1973, a 30 minute documentary on Helen titled “Helen, queen Of the Nautch Girls” was released under the banner of Merchant Ivory Films. The documentary was made under the direction of Anthony Korner who also narrated the same. The film was made with a cost of $17,000 on the most popular dancer in Bombay Musical films. The documentary presented Helen as the undisputed star of the Bollywood with very few rivals. Written by James Ivory, it also presents Helen’s famous dance number on the keyboards of giant typewriter in the story line of Bombay talkie. It was mainly a tribute to her iconic and enduring presence in the Bollywood films.
A book inspired by the life of Helen was released by Jerry Pinto titled “The Life and Times of H-bomb” in 2006. Eventually, the book won National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007.
Helen judged the semifinals and finals of 2000 India’s Dance contest Dancing Queen.
Personal life of Helen
For 16 years of her life from 1957-1973, Helen was living with film Director P.N. Arora, a benefactor of Helen. However, she broke with him on her 35th birthday. In 1981, Helen got married to Salim Khan who was already married and had children Salman Khan, Sohail Khan and Arbaaz Khan. The new couple adopted a girl named Arpita. She even acted as Salman mother in his film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. In addition to this, she played Salman Grand mother-in-law’s role in Khamoshi: The Musical and Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha. Apart from this, she was also Salman’s Grandmother in Marigold.
Helen’s brother Roger passed away during 1980s. Her sister Jennifer is married to an Air Marshal of Indian Air Force and living in Delhi with him. Helen has a niece Nina and a nephew Nikhil.