Helen (actress)

Helen Khan

Helen in 2013
Born Helen Ann Richardson
(1938-11-21) 21 November 1938[1]
Yangon, Burma
Occupation Actress, dancer
Years active 1951–present
Spouse(s) Salim Khan (m. 1981)

Helen Ann Richardson (born 21 November 1938), popularly known as only Helen is a Burma-born Indian film actress and dancer, working in Hindi films. She has appeared in over 700 films,[2] and is often cited as the most popular nautch dancer of her time.[3] She was the inspiration for four films and a book.[4] She is the second wife of veteran writer-producer Salim Khan.

Early life and background

Helen Ann Richardson was born on 21 November 1938 in Rangoon, Burma to an Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother.[5][6] Her father's name was George Desmier. She has a brother named Roger and a sister name Jennifer. Their father died during the Second World War. The family then trekked to Mumbai in 1943 in order to escape from the Japanese occupation of Burma. Helen told Filmfare during an interview in 1964, "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".[7] She quit her schooling to support her family because her mother's salary as a nurse was not enough to feed a family of four.[5] In a documentary called Queen of the Nautch girls, Helen said she was 19 years old in 1957 when she got her first big break in Howrah Bridge.


Helen was introduced to Bollywood when a family friend, an actress known as Cukoo, helped her find jobs as a chorus dancer in the films Shabistan and Awara (1951). She was soon working regularly and was featured as a solo dancer in films such as Alif Laila (1954) and Hoor-e-Arab (1955).

She got her break in 1958, aged 19, when she performed the song "Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu" in Shakti Samanta's film, Howrah Bridge, which was sung by Geeta Dutt. After that, offers started pouring in throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During her initial career, Geeta Dutt sang many songs for her. The Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle also frequently sang for Helen, particularly during the 1960s and the early 1970s. She was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award in 1965 for her role in Gumnaam. She played dramatic roles such as the rape victim in Shakti Samanta's Pagla Kahin Ka (1970).

Writer Salim Khan helped her get roles in some of the films he was co-scripting with Javed Akhtar: Immaan Dharam, Don, Dostana, and Sholay. This was followed by a role in Mahesh Bhatt's film Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), for which she won a Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. In 1999 Helen was given India's Filmfare lifetime achievement award.

Helen officially retired from movies in 1983, but she has since then appeared in a few guest roles such as Khamoshi: The Musical (1996) and Mohabbatein (2000). She also made a special appearance as the mother of real-life step-son Salman Khan's character in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.. She also appeared in Humko Deewana Kar Gaye in 2006. Helen was selected for the Padma Shri awards of 2009 along with Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar.

Non-acting career

She performed onstage in London, Paris, and Hong Kong. In 1973, Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls, a 30-minute documentary film from Merchant Ivory Films, was released. Anthony Korner directed and narrated the film. A book about Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2006, titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb,[8] which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007.

Helen appeared as a Judge in the semi finals and finals of India's 2009 Dancing Queen television series.

Personal life

In 1981, Helen married Salim Khan, a prominent Bollywood screenplay writer. Khan was already married and the father of four children; Helen joined the Khan family and had a large role (along with Khan and his first wife Sushila) in keeping the family united. All of Helen's step-children have bonded closely with her, and Helen is almost invariably accompanied in public appearances by her co-wife, Sushila (alias Salma Khan).

In the late 1980s, Helen and Khan adopted a baby girl, Arpita. Arpita Khan was the daughter of a homeless woman who happened to die on the Mumbai footpath owing to some accident. Khan came across this baby, saw her weeping, and brought her home to take care of her.[9] Arpita grew up with her three parents, three older brothers and elder sister in the Khan household.[10] She did her schooling in Mumbai, then studied at the London School of Fashion, and came back to Mumbai to work in an interior design firm. On 18 November 2014, Arpita married Aayush Sharma, a Delhi-based businessman who is the son of Anil Sharma, a minister in the government of Himachal Pradesh and the grandson of Sukh Ram, a former union cabinet minister; both the politicians belong to the Indian National Congress party.[11] The date was chosen to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the wedding of Salim Khan and his first wife, Sushila.[12] The wedding was held on a grand scale at the Falaknuma Palace hotel in Hyderabad.[13] On 30 March 2016, Arpita and Aayush Sharma were blessed with a baby boy, who they named Ahil Sharma; he may be counted as Helen's sixth grandchild.[14]

Selected recordings

Awards and honors

Selected filmography


  1. "Helen celebrates 72nd birthday on Nov 21st". bbc.co.uk. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  2. Jerry Pinto (1 March 2006). Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb. Penguin Books India. ISBN 978-0-14-303124-6. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  3. Mukherjee, Madhurita (3 February 2003). "Revamping Bollywood's sexy vamps". Times of India. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  4. "Helen". OutlookIndia. 17 April 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  5. 1 2 "Helen Richardson". liveindia.com. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  6. "I have no problems with the item no". santabanta.com. 24 January 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  7. "Helen Upperstall profile". Upperstall.com. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  8. Rediff Interview with Jerry Pinto, daijiworld.com, 29 March 2006.
  9. Arpita Khan Journey: From Homeless Kid To Wedding At Falaknuma Palace
  10. The truth behind Salman Khan's family: Salma, Helen, Arbaaz, Sohail, Arpita, Alvira
  11. Wedding special: 6 facts to know about Arpita Khan
  12. Arpita Khan Journey: From Homeless Kid To Wedding At Falaknuma Palace
  13. Aayush and Arpita with baby boy
  14. "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.

External links


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