Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb
Main saare zamaane ke gham ki dawaa hoon.
(I am the cure of all the sorrows of the world.)
—Lyrics from Helen’s song in the film
It is now over two decades since the Hindi-film heroine
drove the vamp into extinction, and even longer since
the silver screen was ignited by the true Bollywood
version of a cabaret. Yet, Helen—nicknamed ‘H-Bomb’
at the height of her career—continues to rule
the popular imagination. Improbably, for a dancer and
a vamp, she has become an icon.
Jerry Pinto’s gloriously readable book is a study
of the phenomenon that was Helen: Why did a refugee
of French-Burmese parentage succeed as wildly as she
did in Bollywood? How could otherwise conservative families
sit through, and even enjoy, her ‘cabarets’?
What made Helen ‘the desire that you need not
be embarrassed about feeling’? How did she manage
the unimaginable: vamp three generations of men on screen?
Equally, the book is a wonderfully witty and provocative
examination of middle-class Indian morality; the politics
of religion, gender and sexuality in popular culture;
and the importance of the song, the item-number and
the wayward woman in Hindi cinema.