Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls


This  wonderful (though too short) half-hour 1973 documentary written by James Ivory is included by Merchant Ivory Productions along with the DVD of Bombay Talkie.

It opens with a mention of item girl, and dancer par excellence, Helen‘s 500-film milestone.    Over the next 30 minutes we hear  narrator Anthony Korner solemnly intone about the siginificance of dance numbers in Hindi films (“…vicarious luxury”,”…make do for love scenes”, “…puritanical censorship rules”) as we  witness the always upbeat Helen in a black bodysuit and tights doing her daily yoga routine and applying her green glitter maker-up for the typewriter dance number with Shashi Kapoor in Bombay Talkie.   She is asked about retiring and says that she has a boutique opening up soon in the Sheraton where she’d like to do “something nice and groovy”, but admits that “once you put make-up on, you can’t leave this line.”

But the real treat of film is Helen herself, in the many snippets from her many films, doing what she does best: dancing and vamping it up on screen, surrounded by such interesting elements as a caged  “savage” in blackface and gold hoop earrings, Easter Island-like giant idols with lights blinking where their eyes would be, and Shashi Kapoor in canary yellow cuban-heeled boots hopping about on the keys of a giant typewriter.



16 thoughts on “Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls

  1. Aap jaisa koi dusri dancer filmi duniya mein nahien aayi. maine aap kee buhut-see filmen dekhe hain. Don mein aap ke dance sayad akhri dance tha. ankhen (dharmendra) mein aap ke dance “lut ja yahee din hain kisi hj lut ja” mujhe but behar laga.

  2. Hi,

    Does anyone know wherefrom we can obtain the documentary on Helen-since Merchant Ivory closed shop long ago? If someone has this rare video, please upload it on Rapidshare…tnx!

  3. Does anybody know what songs were used in the film. The one I am looking for is the one in the beginning where Helen is dancing with another girl who is dancing in a classic style and then Helen is a modern gogo type dancer then a senorita. The other one is when she is in a miniskirt and polkadotted sweater. And there are men around her with Knives, the clip is in black and white. Thanks. My email is [email protected]

  4. I own a copy of Bombay Talkie as part of a collection of Merchant-Ivory-films. The documentary unfortunately is not on that DVD either.
    But strangely you can find it on the DVD of “Jane Austen in Manhattan” (when you buy that film seperately). I still haven’t watched the film so far because the only reason I bought it was the documentary …

  5. Hi there —

    The copy of Bombay Talkie I rented did not have the ‘Helen’ documentary on it. Is yours on a separate disc to the one carrying the film?

    Love the site, btw!

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