Once we get over the normal rush of gush, Arbaaz Khan’s interview with yesteryear’s dancing queen Helen in The Invincibles series,is remarkably revealing.
Helen looked radiant and rather reluctant to reveal too much about her past. Arbaaz did a good job of making her feel comfortable, treating her with a filial mix of kid’s gloves and wide-eyed wonder, as she spoke of her humble beginnings, about trudging to India from Burmah after the last flight out during political unrest was bombed by the Chinese.
In India Helen learnt Manipuri at the age of 11. That was the only dance form she ever mastered. The rest was all….and she looked upwards at the studio ceiling.
I wish Arbaaz had probed her more on her iconic dances. She spoke briefly about the cabaret Aa jaan-e-jaan in the film Inteqaam being inspired by the club-floor performances at the famous Crazy Horse nightclub in Paris(now defunct).Or why she singled out choreographer P L Raj as the hardest taskmaster.
Ironically most of Helen’s songs were sung by Asha Bhosle. But Aa jaan-e-jaan was rendered by Lata Mangeshkar.
She spoke about Oh Haseena zulfonwali in Teesri Manzil and how Shammi Kapoor was her best dance partner. What about the other iconic dance number Piya tu abb toh aaja? No mention of this. However she did mention doing a bar desktop cabaret in one take in Jewel Thief without naming the song. That was Baithe ho kyon dil ke paas.
Helen spoke of her first break as a dancer in the Dev Anand-Nutan starrer Baarish. She mentioned how Cuckoo , the Helen before Helen in Hindi films, helped her get work , introduced her to various producers . What Helen didn’t mention was that Cuckoo, the dancer who ruled cinema prior to Helen, lost her career after Helen came in.
There was of course a whole section devoted to the, ahem, family matter: Helen is married Arbaaz’s father Salim Khan. I must say Arbaaz handled it like a pro. There was no awkwardness between Helen and her stepson as she revealed how she met and fell in love with Salim Khan, and how much pain she must have caused Arbaaz’s mother.
Arbaaz brushed off Helen’s misgivings with admirable aplomb. I must say this a unique interview for its unprecedented potentially awkward ties between the interviewer and the interviewee rendered into a smooth conversation between two mature non-judgemental individuals.
The most glorious moment in the conversation: when Helen folded her hands and thanked Arbaaz and his family for having her, for making her a Khan.
If only other awkward relations were handled with such dignity , we wouldn’t have so much public mudslinging that we see nowadays.