Continuing from where we left off in the last post: the second instalment of the four-part guest posts by Tom Daniel and Edwina Lyons about Edwina’s life in the Hindi film industry of the late 50s and the 60s… (as before, Tom’s writing is in blue, Edwina’s in regular black font).
Where the first article was about Edwina’s life so far, this one and the next will cover the people she encountered during her nearly ten year career in the movies. Of course, the first thing I wanted to know when I began asking questions was what she could tell me of the famous stars with whom she danced. In spite of my frequent requests, she refused to make anything up just to suit me and always said that she didn’t know anyone. Apparently there was a very real hierarchy within the movie business and stars didn’t mingle much with dancers and dancers didn’t mingle much with extras. In addition, our convent educated young miss (and later mrs.) was painfully shy and never dared push herself on anyone, famous or not. So this first part will consist mostly of random observations she gave me when I asked about various well known stars after seeing her in dances with them.
The Actors And Actresses
Cannot say that I was over the Moon with any of the Actors really The most I ever spoke to on the Sets when Shooting along with Them as far as I can Remember (let Me think now) was Shashi Kapoor- Pran- Mehmood & a word now & then to Shammi- Raj Kapoor & Devanand when asked a Question or when wished the Time of the Day I was Very Shy so kept well away from them & spoke only to Them if They spoke to Me First!Keith I & My Friend Teresa (Ex Dancer) did go to see Shammi & His Wife Neela in their Home a few Years ago at Malabar Hill & thoroughly enjoyed the day Actually He phoned Me in London when He went there for a Friend’s Wedding when He was still somewhat Mobile & invited us to His Home That was the only time I ever spoke to Shammi for such a long period of time & then at His Home His Wife is Very Nice too Poor Man! We keep in touch from time to time by email & forward stuff as well but not that often He told My Husband Keith that We were like His Family in the Film Line
Dev Anand always struck Me as a Very Decent sort of A Bloke & was Very Happily Married to A Catholic Girl I believe His Brother (name I cannot remember) very light skinned & looked nothing like Dev was a Producer as well & A Right Gentleman through & through Anyway He died a few Years ago He must have been well Missed!
Most Actors/Actresses thought they were God’s Gift to the World & maybe they were but only to India I felt more Relaxed with the Female Artists even though most of them were Very Conceited & thought the Sun Shone from Their Behinds sort of thing & I thought Good Luck to Them But I let Myself Go with Helen- Bela Bose-Tanuja-KumKum-& My Two Favourites – Mala Sinha & Shakila They were so Easy Going & made You Feel at Ease too especially If They Liked You as well It was hard to hold a Flowing Converstion with Them because of the Interruptions by the Make-Up Man – Director – Camera Man & Others but They still fitted You in somehow I visited Mala Sinha in Her Home as well but for the life of Me I cannot even remember the address Mala Sinha even asked Satayanarayan the Choreographer to set a Couple of Dances on Me for Her when I went to Her Home & met Her Parents as well & They were all Lovely People!!! Shakila for some reason was very taken up with Me & I am not sure on which Set this was ‘Shriman Satyawadi’? Anyway it was while Shooting with Her that We got chatting & because it was in 1960 that I would Imagine that I could have been telling Her about Me getting Married in November of that Year & making small talk like Women usually do Then to My Surprise the next day on the Sets again We sat to Chat & from across the Table She handed Me Two Photographs of Her & said ‘Look I’ll even Sign it for You’ I remember that so clearly & those Photos never left My Family Album & it is what over 50 Years now ‘I Truly Miss Those Lovely Days & Years of My Life’ I often wonder if They would ever Remember Me as I do & Will because They are Worth Remembering!!!
An official studio photo given to Edwina by actress Shakila,
along with the dedication from the back side.
Tanuja Mumtaz Minoo Mumtaz Asha Parekh Laxmi Chhaya were the closest I got to but never really socialized with any of them because they were really very busy people too & I also kept My Distance Of course Bela Bose was just One of Us when I was in the swing of things in the Line & she often complimented Me on My Style of Dancing & many others of Our Indian Dancers did too but I took all with a pinch of salt I never really knew My Value until lately with You All pointing it out to Me & My Dear Friends here in Naigaon India
Yes to answer one of Your previous Questions about Mumtaz being friendly is correct She showed no Airs or Graces & what You saw is what You Got where She was concerned!
I do like Laxmi Chhaya & She really was ever so Sweet & Friendly! Mumtaz too! Your Laxmi Chhaya used to take Side Roles I know & I cannot really say how many times I worked with Her or any Stars for that matter but We also tend to Cross Each Other in the Studios while they shoot on other Sets as well She was Such a Darling & Very Very Attractive with it All I know after Watching Her Videos that She is so Expressive & One Very Sexy Dancer & the Best of the Lot
As Laxmi Chhaya is also my favorite, I don’t need much of an excuse to show a video Edwina’s in with her. It’s one of Laxmi Chhaya’s very best dances, and Edwina also gets to perform some reasonably complex moves with the other support dancers. The band in this number from 1967’s Raat Aur Din is her brother Terence’s ‘Ted Lyons And His Cubs’, and tall lanky Ted Lyons himself can be seen, especially near the end of the song, dancing in the shadows to the left of the band
Bela Bose too I like & must admit that I prefer Bela Bose doing Her Indian Dancing more than Her Western when sometimes I feel that She tried to copy Helen’s Style but did not succeed I am afraid About Bela Bose when Her Career took off I was not around to be Happy for Her because She really was a Lovely Person & We got on quite well in the Old Days Wish I had Her Telephone Number to ring & have a Chat with Her She was One of Us !!! Sweet Girl! If given a chance I would imagine Bela & I could have become closer Friends & who knows might have even have visited each others Homes but We will never know now?
Everyone in the Film Industry was so Very Busy trying to earn a Crust that Time & Money was Definitely The Essence Stars worked by Contracts & Others were Paid by the Day Besides Stars & Above only Socialized within their Circle & Everybody had Their Commitments Outside the Industry as well so ‘No’ I did not Socialize with the Stars & Missed Nothing!
There’s a web page in Dutch on Bela Bose which Raja translated into English. I sent it Edwina to read and to get her reactions to it. It’s available here in DOC (Wordpad) format:
Read the ‘DOC’ as well & by Jove Bela Bose had One Hell of A Life Bless Her! I totally agree with the Stuff She Mentioned about the Choreographers especially Hiralal whom I never really liked & never had much to do with the Bloke because I did not have to thank God! A right so & so I thought as I watched Him Perform with Other Dancers He must have thought He was God’s Gift to the Film Industry His Mouth was always Red with Chewing Paan (Betel Nut & Crap put in a Leaf) all Day Long He did not even look Presentable & Probably thought He was Some Tin God but then Most Choreographers did Sohanlal was a Softer Version of Him Saroj Khan became Sohanlal’s Wife & He Trained Her to Perfection which helped Her after He died to become No.1 Choreographer during Oscar/Vijay’s Time as well No One could Compete with Her ‘Our Saroj’ She then got Married to A Khan Hence the Surname
There are at least a couple of dances where Edwina performs with Bela Bose, but one is a song from the 1965 film Poonam Ki Raat. Her brother Terence is her partner in this one:
Bela Bose in foreground left with Edwina and brother Terence behind
Minoo Mumtaz was Mehmood’s Sister & She was Lovely to talk to Then again I cannot remember just how often I worked with Her I am hopeless with details Tom but You never give up Have I given You enough to go on?
I found Nutan Meena Kumari Padmini Vyjantimala Very Reserved indeed & kept Themselves to Themselves I never gave any one of them a chance to get rude to me because I too kept Myself to Myself If they thought they were Great then I was Great as well was My Attitude!
Helen & us Girls would land up in Her Make Up Room in Our Lunch Break often & have a Good Natter & Laugh talking things in general She was one of us eh!
Well Tom You asked about Sadhna & Yes She looks Lovely but We never really spoke like Buddies as She also kept Herself to Herself & I never ever made the First Move in any Relationship because of My Shyness then Most of Them were Proud anyway so I kept My Distance too They imagined they were Gods’ Gift to the World like I have said before & I would not have been able to have taken Kindly to any Rejection either so kept Myself to Myself as well Besides I had My Own Circle of Friends & wanted no more ‘What I did not have I did not Miss’! ‘I was a Very Happy Person in My Own Rights’ ‘I was Truly Blessed’ To this Day I Envy Nobody & Am always Happy when Others do Well in Life I mean this from the Bottom of My Heart I Love to see People do Well in Life & want this most for My Own Children Especially I have Many Short Comings but on the Whole not such a Bad Person Afterall I Love Life!!!
Right I agree that Your Madhubala is or rather was a Very Beautiful Looking
Woman but My Favourite is MUMTAZ & Most Beautiful & Versatile!!!
Here’s a video from the 1965 film Boxer featuring Mumtaz and Edwina and her older brother Terence:
Edwina on the left, Mumtaz in the middle
About Helen she had some things to say, not all of them complimentary. Helen was Anglo-Indian also, and frequently invited Edwina and some of the other Anglo-Indian girl dancers into her dressing room, as she mentioned above. At the time Edwina began in the film industry in late 1957, Helen was about to become a very big star. She’d had a near breakthrough in 1957 with Mr John O Baba Khan from Baarish, and just ahead lay Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu from 1958’s Howrah Bridge. Even though Helen is only about two years older than Edwina, she’d already been dancing for about six years at this time, and had been performing solo dances for about four years. At one time Edwina adored Helen, and why not? Later on, after she left the film profession and returned to England, she soured on her a bit.
Now about Helen She was very reserved & only a few Anglo Indian Girls were invited into Her Room for some reason Like Teresa Pamela Marie & I while Her Hair Dresser Tidied Her Hair & Make Up Man retouched Her Make Up I suppose even She got lonely & needed us Girls to talk to She definitely knew Her Value!!!
Now Tom I do not know that I should say some of the things I know about because I feel that I might be defaming their Character if I did & I am hoping that if You Use this in a Book or in Whatever You are trying to accomplish to use it carefully as I am not very good at doing this sort of thing but if it gives You a better Picture of certain Characters then OK
Her Sister Jenny (Oscar’s First Wife) Brother Roger & Burmese Mother were all disowned by Helen & according to them they all came from Burma & were not doing very well in Life Helen refused to help them financially & was embarrassed by them Eventually Helen’s Driver eloped with the Mother which brought Helen down a peg or two & then she washed Her Hands Of the Sister & Brother Completely I used to think the World of Helen when I was in the Line but Yes I did notice that She was very very conceited & the Fame was going to Her Head She did walk onto the Sets like the Queen of Sheba
OK Tom some more about Your Helen If Helen ever saw one us anywhere she would always acknowledge at least with a ‘Hello’ She lent Me One of Her Tiara’s to wear on My Wedding Day on the 26 Nov.1960 She had a Concert at The Royal Albert Hall in London England some Years ago before She became Mrs Khan & Oscar had a small part in it as well & We went miles out of Our Way to see the show & after met with Her Back Stage Her Reception towards Us was very casual & that did hurt Me because She even spoke down to Oscar & He did not even notice it & He was saying ‘Yes Maam No Maam 3 Bags Full Maam’ & all that got up My Nose I was truly embarrassed because there was Keith & other Friends with Me as well I thanked God that I was not in It anymore & safe in the UK
Helen in the later Years of Her Profession I found became a bit too Vulgar in Her Dressing & Movements but that is My Opinion She do doubt was the Queen of Them All !!!
Then some Years later when Oscar became a Choreographer I visited & lived with Teresa & Him (as I did this quite often when I came down here on holiday) & they gave Me Helen’s phone No. if I wanted to chat with Her & I accepted She said a few words & then asked if I would go over & have Lunch with Her at Her Home in Bandra She asked if I would like Chinese & I said it did not matter because a little chat would be sufficient She gave Me directions & what have You for the next day When We got there with Sylvie (also from the Films) The Gate Keeper gave a Packet of Biscuits & Few Flowers saying it was from Memsaab Helen saying that She was Sorry but She had to go out on a Very Important Appointment & would not be able to Meet Up with Me after all I felt so Insulted & was Frothing at the Mouth!!! She could have phoned Me at Oscar’s at least before I ventured out? Mind You when I went back to the UK I wrote Her such a Stinker & told Her Some Home Truths & that She was not anywhere in My League & if I never ever saw Her again it would be too soon Never heard from Her & I saw Helen in another Light ever since & just dislike Her as a Person I truly believe that what goes around comes around & I think She has had Her Share of Problems
(Later) Just to say that I felt sad that I said so Much about Helen but I think it was because I thought the World about Her & must give Credit were Credit is due She really was Untouchable!!! It was & is not in My Nature to be Envious of anyone & I Thank God for It You asked if I Socialized with any of the Stars & She came to Mind Actually We got on Swell & I thought that We could have carried on being Friends even though I was in the UK & She there but It never happened & It was not to be I still feel that She deserved all the Publicity that She got & is Still getting & May She Always be Happy with Gods’ Blessings!!!
Edwina’s in many songs with Helen. One of my favorites is from one in very bad quality, one that’s high on my list of films I’d most like to see in decent quality. The 1962 film Hong Kong is a feast for Helen lovers as she has something like six dances in it, most of them in color, and she’s the second female lead. In this black and white number Edwina wears a dark skirt with a light colored patterned blouse, and has her hair in two braids.
As we all know, almost all Indian films of the period were musicals. A large percentage of any film’s budget and allotted filming time was spent on the filming of the songs and dances. The songs were released in advance of the film itself and were used to drum up interest in the film. One of the most important people in the making of any film, ranking right up there with the producer, director, and the main actors and actresses, was the choreographer or dance director or dance master. This next section will cover some of the choreographers with whom Edwina worked. First up is Surya Kumar or ‘Robert Master’ as Edwina calls him. He’s sometimes listed in a film’s credits as just ‘Robert’, but most of the time as ‘Surya Kumar’. He was an Anglo-Indian and, in my opinion, the greatest of all the choreographers. His nearly thirty year film career included working on many of the greatest films and many of the greatest dances. He could choreograph for all dance styles. If you were to look him up in the IMDB you’d see him credited with directing the dances for 94 films and I doubt this is even half of the films on which he worked.
Apparently Surya Kumar had a Brother who used to be in the Film Industry also as a Choreographer long before Him but because of Politics got Murdered from Someone in the Line I was told so Robert Master took over from Him & became very Popular too He was Respected & Loved by One & All & gave back the same to one & all especially His selected Group of Girls & Boys
Robert Master ‘Surya Kumar’ did come to Our Home in London & had Lunch with us on a couple of occasions & complained to Keith how I never did take the Film Line seriously with the amount of chances He also personally gave Me & other Choreographers too & could not understand it He also said that I could have been another Helen easily but I chose not to Said that I had put on tremendous weight What I did not tell Him was that I was Heavily Pregnant for My Daughter Michelle at that time as I was slightly embarrassed! He also enjoyed My Indian Cooking & Home made Chili Pickle as well That was the last I saw Him God Rest His Soul!!! Sad the way He died too!
He was in a Relationship for Many Years with someone outside the Film Industry Who was also Living with Him so everything went into Joint Names & they seemed very Happy & all things were going Great at the start He also had His Very Best Friend who was like a Brother to Him for Many Years too whom He Trusted with all His Heart till His Girlfriend & Friend became Lovers unknown to Him He did not have a clue till finally there was no Cash left in the Bank & He landed Up sleeping outside on the Balcony with not a Naiya Paisa to His Name He landed up Begging from the Dancers & they even bought Him a Pair of Spectacles because He could not see properly & could not afford a Pair Eventually He died a Pauper!!!
I Only got to know all this when I first went back to India to visit My Friends & it truly broke My Heart something Rotten!!! He was such a Lovely Human Being & did not deserve that Surely Someone could have done More for Him as He gave so Much to the Industry!!! That Saying ‘Laugh & the World Laughs with You Cry & You Cry Alone’ So True!!!
As a former dancer himself, Surya Kumar sometimes couldn’t resist putting himself into the dances he was directing. He might cast himself as a backup dancer, or ‘play’ an instrument briefly. Sometimes he even took the part of the lead male dancer opposite the lead woman dancer. Here’s one such example where he dances opposite Helen in a dance that also features Edwina, Dil Se Dil Takraye from the 1959 film Love Marriage:
Above, Surya Kumar with Edwina. Below, with Helen.
The three choreographers with whom Edwina worked the most and who she most respected were Surya Kumar, P.L. Raj, and Satyanarayan. All three used her often. Her former dance colleague, Herman Benjamin, also became a choreographer during Edwina’s time in the films. This next part on the choreographers will be mixed in with a discussion of the dance called ‘The Shake’, one of my great interests. It’s a dance seen very often in Indian films during the mid-sixties, second in popularity only to the ubiquitous Twist.
P L Raj’s Style was Very Similar to Robert Master & I became One of His Favourites too The ‘Shake’ was First Used in Arzoo (I think) & Milked after that in Many Many Films but never looked the same anymore & was definitely not Invented by Herman that is for sure! More like everyone was having a fit of some kind I thought!!! P L Raj showed up in some Documentary in England & It was so nice to see & hear Him Speak & it was only then that He said that He was actually an Anglo Indian but I never knew that Robert Master was too till You mentioned it Wish that they had stuck to their Own Names instead to the Indian Names but I guess they knew Best eh!
I do not think that any Choreographers socialized with the Dancers & if they did they could have done so with the Males more than the Females Everything about them was so Business Like & Status was such a Big Thing in that Industry They all thought that they were ‘Little Tin Gods’ & did not see further than their Noses Sorry I am getting carried away here Those Two Brothers ‘Hiralal & Sohanlal’ both South Indian were the Strictest of the lot
Robert Master Raj & Herman were the easiest to get on with perhaps because they experienced being in the Group as well before they made it to the Top Robert Master was Firm but relaxed & Very Punctual No Stars ever Rehearsed with the Group except just before Shooting is what I experienced When checking out PL Raj check out Satyanarayan as well Shriman Satyawadi I believe were His Dances He was very fond of the Ballet Movements
The 1960 film Shriman Satyawadi was indeed Satyanarayan’s and we can easily see his fondness for ballet movements. Hai Dil Dekha Hai from that film is one of Edwina’s very favorite dance numbers. She’s dancing with one of her favorite partners and best friends, Abe Cohen, about whom we’ll learn more in the next article, and the dance also features some of her other friends from the period. In addition, it was during the filming that she became better acquainted with Shakila and received the signed photographs mentioned earlier. Shakila ‘plays’ the piano while Raj Kapoor ‘sings’. Here are pictures of a couple of Satyanarayan’s ballet-type moves, both on Edwina and Abe.
In 1959 Herman Benjamin began the slow transition from dancer to choreographer. At first he worked with other more experienced choreographers such as Surya Kumar, P.L. Raj, and especially Satyanarayan . But even the best and most experienced often worked in partnership with other choreographers on a particular movie. Edwina had this to say about his time as a choreographer and his untimely death:
He was an Israelite Jew Married to Shoba another Dancer but they never did seem to be full of each other for some reason & I did hear (never saw) that they were having other affairs & that the Wife’s Boyfriend Poisoned Herman when He Died What to believe? He enjoyed the company of the Females I would imagine & did show His Importance when He became a ‘Dance Master’ but within reason because ‘Yes’ He used to be a Dancer in the Group before He made it to the Top
Sometimes it’s hard to tell who choreographed which dances when there were two or more choreographers working on a movie, but for the film from which this example of his work is taken he was the only choreographer. I would especially recommend paying attention to his handling of the support dancers in this song from 1967’s Aamne Saamne. In the opening section, while Prem Chopra is dancing with Sharmila Tagore and Shashi Kapoor bumps into Sharmila, the other dancers around them are doing regular only loosely structured dancing. As soon as the song begins the dancing becomes very tightly controlled. Every bar (8 beats) the synchronized dance movements change. Sometimes the couples are artfully scattered around the floor and at other times they’re arranged in lines or in a ‘V’ formation. The space being used is an unusual one with a small stage and a dance floor in front of it, with another part of the floor in the back, almost as an alcove. Herman makes masterful use of the whole space. In addition, the dancers and musicians include a number of Edwina’s friends and family. Among the musicians, the drummer is Sonu, brother Terence’s brother-in-law and the guitarist is her younger brother Neville.
Her sister Marie is perhaps the main featured backup dancer. Pay close attention to her. She’ll be discussed in the next article and I usually have trouble picking her out from the crowd. Here she’s wearing dark slacks with a white, grey, and dark patterned blouse worn on the outside. She begins the dance with her hair in braids but it quickly changes to hanging free. When she smiles she looks a bit like Edwina, except that she’s shorter, her hair isn’t as long, and she’s very slender.
One of Edwina’s best friends then and now is Pamela in a white dress with an orange (I think, the video quality isn’t so good in this one) headband. She also figures prominently in the song.
Marie’s husband, Shinde, is one of the male backup dancers. He’s on the right side of the picture wearing a beard.
All of these people will be discussed in more detail in the next article. About the only one missing here is Edwina herself. She said that maybe she was preparing to move back to England for good, or had already left. And after I asked, she also said that because of the complexity of handling so many people in this dance video, it would have taken at least a full week to film.
I had originally thought Herman Benjamin dreamed up the great dance for Laxmi Chhaya in Gumnaam. Memsaab set me straight on that, as did Edwina. Then I decided Surya Kumar must have invented it, after I learned he had actually choreographed the great Jaan Pehchaan Ho (both he and Herman Benjamin helped choreograph the dances in Gumnaam). Friend, blogger, and ace translater Ava Suri and Edwina both told me the dance which figures in what may be the greatest dance video of all time was really derived from an English dance called ‘The Shake’. Being from the US, I had never heard of it, but Ava pointed me to a web page which described and illustrated the movements and it includes a lot of fairly sedate head-shaking. Then it was Surya Kumar who took the shake and turned Laxmi Chhaya loose with it. In case you’ve lived under a rock for the last forty years, here’s the dance. Herman Benjamin does the ‘singing’ in grand style, while Laxmi Chhaya dances her way into film history.
Memsaab gets the credit for first pointing out in her blog who the ‘singer’ is, as well as first pointing me to Herman Benjamin as a backup dancer earlier in his career. There are three guitarists in the video of Jaan Pehchaan Ho, with Edwina’s brother Terence being in the middle, and it’s his band, Ted Lyons And His Cubs, while Helen’s brother Roger is the left-most of the three guitarists. Unfortunately, Edwina isn’t in this one.
Yes I know England Invented the ‘Shake’ I Loved the Beatles & Elvis Presley & Sang & Danced to almost all Their Songs in the 60’s Herman did not Invent ‘The Head Shaking Dance’ It was known as ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’
That & the Twist was well into Force I won a Competition for both these Dances & the Jive as well at the Byculla Mechanics with My Partner ‘Walter Dixon’ (who was Gay & outside the Film Industry) & ‘The May Queen’ Organized by The Anglo Indian Association after I went back from England In fact I showed the Shake to P L Raj who also was in the Old Films Dancing along Side Robert Master & later became Robert’s Assistant & Finally A Choreographer
Between 1965 and about 1968, the shake and variations on it were performed in many movies and by many dancers, including but not limited to Laxmi Chhaya, Mumtaz, Helen, and Edwina. Edwina and her fellow dancers did some shaking near the end of Duniya Paagal Hai from the 1967 film Shagird, linked in the first article.
Next we’ll get into the real heart of these articles, an attempt to bring to the fore the other dancers with whom Edwina worked. Once you know their names, what they look like, and a little bit of their story, perhaps you’ll find yourself looking for them while enjoying the movies from this period, and the movies may become more meaningful and enjoyable as a result. That’s been true for me; maybe it will for you also.
Text and images © Edwina Violette and Thomas Daniel