Sadly, all good things must come to an end. So, with a heavy heart, I’m having to publish this post: the last of the four-part guest posts on Edwina Lyons, written by Edwina, along with Tom Daniel. If you haven’t yet read the earlier posts, click here for the first (a mini biography), here for the second (on the actors, actresses and choreographers Edwina worked with) and here for the third, about Edwina’s fellow dancers. As in the earlier posts, in this one too Edwina’s writing is formatted in black, while Tom’s words are in blue. Over to Tom:
After three preparatory articles, we finally get to the heart of the matter – what it was like to film these movie dances fifty years ago. What was the process and how was the life of a young female dancer? Some of what will be covered in this article were among Edwina’s earliest writings to me, because these are the things about which I wanted to know the most. This early material was also later supplemented by telephone conversations which I rewrote in my own words. Ultimately, though, it all comes from Edwina.
Becoming a Dancer and Why One Would Want To
You’re a young woman or man wanting to break into Indian movies as a dancer. Do you need a résumé? Do you need a portfolio of professionallyproduced photographs? Do you need an agent? Does anyone care that you played lead in your high school production of the musical Oklahoma? Do you have to audition or submit a video of you dancing to prove that you actually can dance? In case you can’t figure it out, the answer to all the questions is ‘no’. As with most efforts to find work, it helps if you know someone. You might know a supplier (more on them coming up shortly), or know someone already in the movie industry. Since Edwina’s family had several people then or formerly employed in the movies, she already had the inside information. If a choreographer hired to work on a movie needed more dancers in addition to his usual crew, he’d call for a gathering of hopefuls and personally choose the ones he wanted. At that early stage you didn’t have to prove you could dance. Being chosen out of so many depended almost entirely on looks and personality. As anyone can tell from watching the movies, the dancers, both male and female, are generally very handsome and/or attractive. It was after the filming began that the choreographer would decide if you could dance, if you showed up to work on time, dressed well, could take instruction and orders, and if you’d be worth keeping for the future. Edwina was fortunate in that she had to attend very few of these cattle calls before she went on the lists of dancers the various choreographers would call upon when needed for a particular dance. Then when there was a new movie to be filmed and the choreographer wanted Edwina to participate, he’d give the supplier her name and address and he’d go and track her down.
A supplier was usually a one-man company that did as the name implies – he supplied things. If the film company or studio needed props it didn’t have in its warehouses, there was a supplier who specialized in tracking down difficult to find items. If extras were needed to populate the tables during a dance, or for a crowd scene, there was a supplier for that. Edwina’s older brother Terence ran a supplier business and later made quite a bit of money supplying Westerners for the movies. For example, all the ‘hippies’ seen in the great Dum Maro Dum from 1971’s Hari Rama Hare Krishna were provided by Terence Lyons. He also supplied band uniforms and instruments. A supplier would go to Edwina’s home requesting her presence on such-and-such a day to begin filming a dance for a choreographer. He supplied her; he also paid her. Technically she worked for the supplier and not for the choreographer, the movie production company, or the movie studio. The dancers were all paid daily, and since suppliers would sometimes try to play games with the dancers, all dancers quickly learned to tell him if there was no money one day, there’d be no dancing the next.
How much did they make and how did it compare to the average wage scale? The usual work available to a young woman of the time was office work as a secretary, a receptionist, or perhaps as a switchboard operator. At that time (roughly around 1960 or so) this kind of work paid 100-150 rupees a month, and usually closer to 100 than to 150. The dancers, both male and female, were paid 26 rupees 4 annas daily for eight-hour days, with time and a half after the eight hours and double-time after twelve hours. And there was often quite a lot of overtime work. The office worker was paid by check and it was taxed. The dancer was paid in cash, it wasn’t taxed and, except for monthly union dues, was all hers to take home. Therefore, with four days work the dancer could make about what an office worker took home for an entire month. Sure, the work could be unsteady for the less ‘valuable’ dancers, but for Edwina and her close friends there was usually all the work they could handle. By the time she left the film industry in 1967, Edwina and her fellow dancers were making Rs. 37.50 a day. Before her marriage, Edwina took most of it home to give to her mother. After returning from England she’d give about half to her mother and keep the rest for herself and her two young sons. If there’s anyone reading wanting to break into film dancing now, these days the group dancers make Rs. 3000 a day. The money is paid by check and taxes taken out. There were some real downsides to working in the movie industry and we’ll cover them later in the article, but the good pay went a long way towards making it worth putting up with the unpleasantness.
My Brother did not actually introduce Me to anyone but He at the time was also a Supplier who took Girls & Boys to whomever was the choreographer & Whomever were able to dance were selected & We were paid by the Day & if it went on for over the hours (say 8 hrs per day)We were given Time & Half & Double Time if it went into the next day & so on & so forth We also had a Dancers Union & paid Our dues to keep the Union going who took care of Us as well The Dues were called ‘Chanda’ an Indian Word I worked for any Choreographer & was Popular with most of them & was always at the top of every list given to the Supplier most times Just one of the Lucky Ones I suppose There were so Many of Them in My Time – Robert Master – Satayanarayan – Raj – Suresh – & later on Herman too – more of Western Dancing HiraLal & SohanLal (both brothers) more of Classical Indian Dancing – whom I was not very Popular with because I looked too Westernised for their Type of Dancing & never really gave Me a chance to prove them wrong ha!ha! I was Mad enough to do any Dance to earn a Living
Clothes, Hair, and Makeup
There wasn’t any clothing allowance from the studios. Dancers supplied their own wardrobe. Because her family when she was growing up wasn’t very well to do, her clothes consisted mostly of hand-me-downs from her older sister Philomena , and maybe one new dress a year, for Christmas. After beginning in films and making her own money, one of her greatest pleasures was taking a trip to the tailor shop once a month to pick out a pattern and material for him to turn into a dress for her. The dresses you see her wear in the videos were all handmade, no off-the-shelf or readymade dresses. You went to the tailor, chose the pattern, were measured for it, and the dress was made-to-order. All for a very reasonable price. She didn’t own any saris and only one salwar/kameez outfit.
Only if a dance required similar ‘costume-type’ dresses for the dancers were they supplied by the studios. If a dance called for the girls to all wear the same outfits, the studios’ in-house dress designers and tailors and seamstresses would create them. Those dresses were then saved for use in the future. Here’s an example of the same dress being worn two years apart. In 1958 a lovely Anglo-Indian dancer named Jennifer wore this beautiful dress for a dance in Parvarish with Raj Kapoor. Two years later Edwina wore the exact same dress for a song in the 1960 film Shriman Satyawadi.
The Dress is One & the Same !!! The Difference Looks like Jennifer had A Very Full Can Can Petticoat under it all which made it look Fuller that is all! Anyway I am used to Wearing Hand Me Downs so what the Heck eh! We wore Our Own Clothes & nobody ever told us or dared to tell us what to wear unless they were tailor made costumes made for us in a Big Dance Sequence & We all dressed alike for that Never had any Shower Room or such for a Shower & removed Our Make Up at Pack Up Time with Oil or Cream in the Make Up Room & changed into Our Own Clothes & went Home No Special Treatment to that extent & everything supplied was for the lot of us
I used to do My Own Make Up & so did many of the other Girls though We did have Our Make Up Man & a Hair Dresser as well but I was quite Independent & still am for that matter mainly because I am not very patient & need to be one step ahead always That is why when I am Dancing I am Happier than when I have to sit at a Table or in a Barge or just sit & look Pretty I get terribly bored & show it as well especially in front of a Camera
By the way the people who sat at Tables in any Scene & never really Danced were known as Extras or Junior Artists & those Who did Dance & sat at Tables as well were known as Dancers or Senior Artists & not Extras Extras wore their Own clothes at all times who just sat at Tables to fill in the gaps & by Golly that would have truly Blown My Mind I had to be Active!
Now about My Hair? Always did My Own Stupid Hair Styles? I think I mainly put half up & left the rest down because it became quite a weight & Sometimes put the Lot Up & Yes it was all My Very Own & quite difficult to manage To this day I tend to let My hair grow & leave them in 2 Pigtails!!!
I was also known for My Mad Hair Styles in My Youth & now You have to go & spoil it all I thought they were terrific & I was just being Unique! Extras did not have Dressing Rooms because they wore their own clothes but there were Costume Rooms if they ever had to wear a Costume I suppose for a Particular Scene There always used to be a Room for the Dancers though Just to say that at no stage had I ever had Hair Extensions done in My Entire Life in the Movies or Otherwise
All the pictures up to now have been in pairs and show some of the many hairstyles Edwina used during her career. They’re all her ‘inventions’, all created by her. Coming up below is the last in the set, and the the spoil-it-all one she mentioned earlier is on the left. I had written her that I thought it ugly, an opinion I’ve since come to regret. When not filming – when just going around town – she usually had her hair in a ponytail or in braids.
Also that I have always done My Own Make Up even though there was always a Make Up Man to do Our Make Up for All Dancers but most of Us chose to do Our Own I did things at Random Personally & only to suit Myself I hated any Heavy Makeup so would just use a Tube or Pan Stick Foundation to Cover the Face & a Pencil Eyeliner & perhaps some Mascara to suit the Mood I was in at any particular time No body really bothered with Us Dancers & how We looked so whether We retouched Our Make Up or not was entirely Our Choice I particularly Put My Make Up On & tough if it stayed on or not I also start off with a Dark Red Shade of Lipstick but eventually that too fades off & I might just retouch that after Lunch & hope for the Best & after that who cares eh! I found the Indian Dancers were more concerned with looking Their Best more than the Western Ones & were forever touching up their Make Up especially before Shots We Anglo Indians in particular were more of a Hard Case Lot & just Lived for the Day Also We never knew how to Save Financially but the Indians had a Big Fat Bank Balance because they worked almost around the Clock while We picked & Choose while We had a Bit of Cash in Our Purses to last Us until the next Shoot again Still We had a Good Life while it Lasted
I always tried to look Presentable when I went out to Socialise & from when I can remember I always tried to use an Eyeliner but not like the way You noticed it in the Video
Never overdid the Make Up at any time really not even on My Wedding Day & even the Hair Do was My Own Coiled around the Head to Hold My Veil in place mainly I think I always tried to take the Line of Least Resistance because I am Inclined to be quite Impatient most times Also Terribly Independent & cannot Suffer Fools Lightly !!!
Filming A Dance
Dancing was in My Blood My Brother used to say that I Danced till I dropped even as a Child I used to grab a Chair for A Partner & even made the Chair Swing Was never trained into any kind of Dancing Just Sorry that I never went into More Professional Dancing Preferably ‘Ball Room’ like One sees on T.V.
I never pretended to be Somebody I never Was & Somebody I never wanted to be I took the Path I wanted to take & have no Regrets there whatsoever!!! Now to Answer One of Your Questions about Myself that You asked about being able to have done Indian Classical Dancing & Acting if I had to? Yes If it was what I wanted to do & if I was Trained into it all then I would have been able to have done it all especially the Dancing say from about 1963 to for as ever long it would have lasted The ‘Lingo’ I am not sure about Shakti Samanta was One of the Producers who called Me into His Office & asked Me if I was willing to Learn ‘Urdu’ & that He was ready to get Me Trained if it was what I wanted to do & My Father Answered for Me & said ‘No’
We Group Dancers Were not given the preference the Stars were given & only in Important Dance Sequences were given Rehearsals composed by Choreographers otherwise We were just shown on the spot till We got it right before actually shooting the Scene Our Group were all Good Dancers so that was not a problem & even if We slipped Up it did not matter & was overlooked We were only there to Decorate the Scene as You already know
I saw a documentary on Amitabh Bachchan, and after filming a scene outdoors there was a bucket filled with big chunks of ice which he rubbed over his face to cool down. I wondered how people kept cool in the studios before the days of air conditioning.
We had Massive Big Studio Fans on the Sets in Any & Every Studio Powerful enough to Blow Us all away & never any Air Conditioning Only when shooting a Scene would the Fans be switched off
When the songs were being filmed, I wondered if the actors actually sang along with the song, or only pretended to. It always looked to me as if they were actually singing, but I’ve wondered how people kept from laughing if the actor or actress couldn’t carry a tune and sang badly. The answer surprised me.
You call it Lip-Synching People here call it Miming Mouthing it Off It is a Recording Done & the Words of the Song & any Dialogues have to be Rehearsed & Memorised by any & every Artist Performing Some Artists might get prompted but mostly not There could be many Retakes & the Directors & Cameramen just have to bite their Tongues & carry on No Boards with the Words Written on them have I ever seen on the Sets No one Could hear the Actor Singing because the Music was always Blaring!!!
Like I have said to You in the Past if I remember correctly Tom that Speaking Hindi in My Younger Days was always a Big Problem (I spoke Broken Hindi) but I made Others understand somehow with Hand Signs as well So You can imagine Me being a Dancer & having to Sing in a Chorus when Necessary eh? By Golly it really was a Struggle for Me & some of Our Western Dancers too & thank God nobody really cared Besides the Music was always Blaring so nobody heard even if We were Singing the Words to the Song correctly or not Of course I sang out Loud making up My Own Words as I went along & who did get Suspicious in One of His Group Dances that both Teresa & I were in was no other but Our Dear Robert Master He crept up right behind Me while I was well in the Swing of some straight forward Movement & Teresa was immediately in front of Me & He said ‘What the Hell are You Singing’? My reply to Him was ‘I do not know’ ‘You want Me to sing so I am Singing’ By then the Music & Dance was Stopped by Him & He asked Teresa to take Me to a side & teach Me the Words while She was still Laughing She soon stopped Her Laughing & said to Him that She did not know the Words of the Song either He looked so disgusted with Us & walked away & I can still Remember that Scene to this day Mind You My Hindi has Improved Tremendously over the Years with My going to India & back that I do not even need to make any signs with My Hands to make Myself Understood anymore My Hindi still not Perfect though!!!
Filming A Song & Dance took almost forever That ‘Kawaali’ must have taken them at least 3 to 4 Weeks to Complete
It might have taken up to a month to film a single song? I figured it might have taken anywhere from a few hours to a few days at most. I asked for more information about how long it took to film the dances after she told me the qawaali took three or four weeks to shoot.
Like I said before Longer Sequence with Costumes Larger Crowd with Bigger Stars then more Rehearsals with more days in Shooting Sometimes We Dancers are given a Break if not in certain Scenes that are being Shot to return again when needed Sometimes We have just a day or two if it is a Short Dance with no Rehearsal & so on & so forth Everything depended on the Individual Actor or Actress & their Performance & by Jove they Truly Believed they were ‘Gods’ !!! We poor Beggars had to Suffer in Silence !!! ‘Not to Question Why but to do & Die’ Working in the Film Line was not an Easy Job I assure You but another Day another Dollar Earned made it all worthwhile!
I am tickled pink with the Outfit & the Singing along with Shakila & also playing the Harmonium Ha!ha!
The qawaali in question is Hum Diwane Teri from 1962’s Naqli Nawab. What with all the people involved, all the difficult coordinated movements among the different groups of men and women, the dancers and the singers, one can understand that a song and dance video of this complexity might take an especially long time to film. Here’s an example of Edwina participating in a uniquely Indian kind of song, and she gets to wear something besides her usual dresses or slacks and blouse outfits. She shows up about 2:15 into it, leading a group of women onto the floor, and then spends most of the rest of it beside Shakila ‘playing’ the harmonium.
I had asked about the the hip-swinging almost always seen in Indian dances.
Yes I would imagine that the Hip Shaking & the Top Half of the Body Shaking & any part of the Body Shaking done by The Female Dancers especially in the Film Line is to spell out ‘Sex’ from Beginning to End Cannot compare Classical Dancing because every movement taken in the Dance has a Meaning (Now do not ask Me to explain because I do not know) & It will be like comparing the ‘Shake’ to ‘Ballet’ or ‘Tap’ to ‘Rock & Roll’ or so on & so forth The truth is I am just doing Guess Work here Like I said I wish I had done a lot more in the Line of Dancing but unfortunately did not have that Privilege Wonder what I would have looked like trying to do any kind of Indian Classical Dance? Cannot Imagine?
I asked about the eyebrow raising as practiced and demonstrated by the likes of Helen, Mehmood, Jayshree T and others. And the answer got thrown back in my face!
Then You ask about ‘Eye Brow Raising’? Golly! Never let the Camera get Close Enough to see My Eye Brows ha!ha! No honestly have to lift both Eye Brows at the same time otherwise go all Squint! You are lucky that You can Raise at least One Eye Brow Tom but I will not Envy You for that I can Raise Both! Also I have to be Myself & have to have My Own Style in doing things so definitely did not Copy Helen or anyone else for that matter & especially not in Eye Brow Raising I am making Myself Laugh here thinking ‘Tom You are Something Else’ but Your Mother Loves You !!!!!
I asked about the 2 times she went outside the studios and away from Mumbai for filming. She didn’t do more because her family wouldn’t let her. One time was in Kashmir, but to this day she doesn’t remember the film. I’ve gone over Kashmir Ki Kali, Tasveer, and several others filmed in Kashmir looking for her in an outdoor dance with snow on the mountains and houseboats in the song, but no luck so far. If anyone stumbles across it, please let us know.
Do not remember what Film I worked in on My Kashmir Shooting or Who the Stars were either but had the Pleasure of getting into some of the Houseboats & they were just Beautiful !!!
This Dance with Shammi & Asha Parekh was Shot in Mahableshwar & when I viewed it noticed that towards the latter part I went missing & wondered why? Then it all came to mind I got very ill that day with Food Poisoning & could not go to the Spot where the Shooting took place & missed out on the Fun Sad now that I was not in it through out! Only ever saw Kashmir & Mahableshwar & all the rest of the Outdoor Shootings were on the Out Skirts of Bombay (Mumbai) My Husband was in the UK but He gave Me Strict Orders from Abroad He did not even know about these Shootings until not so long ago I needed the Money so I went More Fool Me! Thought I would share this with You while I remembered Mahableshwar was such a Beautiful Place & wish I had done more Out Door Shootings then The only other place I visited after that was Kashmir which I already mentioned to You
In Bade Hain Dil Ke Kaale from 1959’s Dil Deke Dekho, Edwina first makes her appearance with the other girls dressed in western clothes at about 2:18 into the video. She leads the bottom group of girls into the picture. A minute and a half later she’s gone for good. It’s the only record we have so far of her appearing in a video filmed outside of Mumbai.
Yes The Scene with Me sitting at the Table with some other Character Actresses (Names I do not know) & My Good Friend Aileen Stubert (Nee- Pringles) another Dancer was because We were supposed to have been Asha Parekh’s College Friends It just nearly killed Me sitting there watching the Dance & I not in it What a waste of time!!! Absolute Agony!!! ‘ I was not to Question Why but to do & Die’ Mind You at the end of the Day I got My Money so what the Heck!
Even though she still got paid dancer’s wages for doing extra’s work sitting at a table, she couldn’t stand the inactivity of doing next to nothing at all for a few days. So, even though the great Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh from 1960’s Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayee features one of Lata Mangeshkar’s greatest vocals ever, and even though Edwina is all over it (it was linked in the previous article because it also features Teresa), Edwina’s not the least bit impressed because she was bored to death sitting in the barge. It’s the same with the title song from Dil Deke Dekho. Her friends Bela Bose and Saroj Khan get to dance (can you spot them?), but all Edwina is given to do is sit and look bored.
I must have gone into the Dillagi Dance towards the latter end because I could have been Shooting elsewhere or would have been there at the start Perhaps was not well? Any time You see Me in any Dance towards the final part would be for this reason mainly Normally I am One of the First 3 Short Listed & I also noticed I came in towards One of Feroz Khans Dance Sequence I watched sent by Greta where Terence was too (Cannot remember the Name) but again I could have been Shooting elsewhere I grabbed whatever work I could get in those times Cash & Time was of the Essence in My Case
Yeh Aaj Kal Ke Ladke from the 1966 film Dillagi is ready-made for Edwina. She should have been in the whole thing. Many of her friends and family members are in it, including her brother-in-law Shinde (with beard) and her older brother Terence (tall and gaunt). Teresa dances with Bhagwan, and Edwina’s sister Marie is also in it, but not dancing with her husband Shinde. The tall fellow in the picture below, the one with the hat perched askew on his head, is Helen’s brother Roger. Edwina herself only shows up at about 2:45 into the video.
I enjoyed the Clip & the Song & also seeing Myself dressed in a Kasta! (*Maya-Sanam Tu Chal*) A Dress worn only by Locals in the State of Maharashtra by all Women in Those Days but Apparently are getting more Modern These Days & can Dress Differently by Choice Keith told Me this Yesterday Also I like the Dance of Helen & the Actor (Name I cannot remember) & I with the Kasta (Sari for You) as the Song & Music is Lovely & makes You want to Sing Along with Them as well
Sanam Tu Chal from the 1961 film Maya is another unusual one for Edwina as she once again plays an extra and also wears Indian dress, a ‘kasta sari’ (as Edwina corrected me after I just called it a ‘sari’). The song itself is so charmingly sung by Mohammad Rafi and so charmingly performed by both Agha and Helen that I thought I’d include it. Edwina first appears at about a minute into it encouraging Helen to go downstairs to Agha, and then decorates the set the rest of the way. Although she mainly performed in western clothes, there are actually quite a few where she wore Indian clothes of one kind or another.
My favorite of the Edwina table-sitting songs is Haseenon Se To Bas Saaheb from 1963’s Ustadon Ke Ustad where, as one of Shakila’s girlfriends, she gets to pout and make nasty faces while Pradeep Kumar insults all womanhood. Teresa walks out hand-in-hand with Jenny (Helen’s sister) at about 2:45. Oscar ‘plays’ the trumpet in the band, oblivious to the fact that later in life he’ll marry both women. But not at the same time. Edwina walks out about ten seconds later, almost knocking over the table as she stands up.
My Parents took care of My Children when I went to work & I took care of them Financially & some Members of My Family too The Younger Ones You also asked If I enjoy seeing Myself in the Old Dances when I was Young? Yes I do Even I cannot believe that I Danced Pretty Well in Those Days because I always thought that Everyone Else was Better than I I think I was made to feel that way mainly by Siblings & It did take a Big Toll on My Entire Life I now know
Now, so many years later, there’s renewed interest by the fans of classic Indian films in people such as the character actors and the group dancers. This is at least partly in response to the spotlight being thrown on them by the Memsaabstory blog. With many of the songs and dances from the period being available on YouTube and other filesharing sites, Edwina, who doesn’t even remember making most of these dances, and who never even went to watch the movies in which she appeared, can now more objectively assess her work. And we, the fans, can better understand the enormous contribution the backup dancers made to the success of the songs in which they performed.
The pay was very good, the work was steady, the dancing was difficult but interesting, you got a chance to work with some of the most famous and beloved people in India on a regular basis (even if many of them were jerks), and you had your own circle of friends whom you loved and supported and who supported you. What wasn’t there to like? Plenty!
Just as in the US, the film industry in India was a haven for misfits and outcasts of all kinds. The religious minorities, the Parsis, the Jews, the Christians, and even the Moslems, were represented both in front of and behind the camera in numbers far greater than their percentages in the general population. The gamblers, the alcoholics, the drug users, the homosexuals, the womanizers, the man-eaters, and crooks of all kinds, both big and small, they all found a home in the industry.
When one thinks of the immoral period of Indian film history, one thinks of the 1940s. During that decade scandals of all kinds were rampant. The goings on of such actresses as Sitara Devi, Rehana, Noor Jehan, and many others, were well reported. Edwina says that while it wasn’t as heavily publicized, nothing had changed in the period since then as far as the behavior of the men and women in the industry. The industry as a whole just wasn’t very reputable. Men and women from ‘good’ families didn’t generally gravitate into film work, but for the poor and the ambitious it represented a way out of poverty. More than one mother was willing to sell out (or even sell off) her daughter in order to better the family’s life; more than one daughter was willing to do whatever it took to better her station in life.
For the Indian movie-loving public, all those employed in the film industry were painted with the same brush – they were all considered fair game for any insults, curses, or unwanted advances and propositions. For a young woman just trying to earn a living, support her family, and get ahead in the world, the temptations and pitfalls were many and various. Just going out in public could turn out to be a real ordeal. Just consider Edwina’s situation. She’s young. She’s female. She’s attractive. She’s Christian. She’s Anglo-Indian. She dresses in western clothes. She’s employed in the movie business. She’s seen in many movies by the movie-mad Indian public and she’s often recognized on the street.
You are so right about all that You said in Your email today about the Film Line & also by being Anglo Indians did not help the Situation that We Girls found Ourselves in & how We had to fight to keep a Stand in that Era I Personally Slapped Many a Bloke in My Time & thought Nothing of It! Most Times I Pretended I did not Hear but If I was already having A Bad Day then I saw no Danger & just Lashed Out I used to be Quite a Little Terror before I became ‘My Fair Lady’ ha!ha! I had a Good Life though on the Whole!
Even the family into which she married, the Violettes, weren’t unanimous in their acceptance of Edwina. Because she didn’t approve of the match, Keith’s mother didn’t attend their wedding. Edwina won her over within several years, though.
Just to briefly say that Only the Mother did not come to Our Wedding I got on with the Men in the Family & not the Females at the time The Father (Keith’s) was Very Fond of Me & was always there to defend Me Two Sisters & Father came to Our Wedding
Although the Anglo-Indians had more problems with harassment than did the Indian dancers she knew, both groups, and I think all young women at least to some degree, ran into the problems described here, so I wondered more about the differences between the two groups, the Anglo-Indians and the Indians.
Like I already said that most Anglo Indians in My Opinion just live for the day ‘One Day at A Time Sweet Jesus’ Tomorrow is always another day so no need to stress & Limited almost everything they did in Their Lives If they passed through High School was more than enough to get by with & not really Ambitious as such Planning was definitely out of the Question & did Things Mainly on Impulse Majority of them Anyway! Yet They were Full of Airs & Graces & Almost felt that They were Superior to Others & I Personally called Them ‘Hard Cases’ just a Name instead of calling Them worse I know that I Am ‘Anglo Indian’ as well unfortunately! I know that I Worked Very Hard & Still Do but then I Might just be one of the Minority eh! Mind You I am not over the Moon being an A.I. but I cannot help being what I am We cannot call Ourselves Indian here in India because the Indians would not accept that The Hindus & Muslims & Others go by Caste System which causes a great deal of Problems among Them Politics!!!
Ruling over all were the ‘godfathers’. When one thinks of a godfather, one thinks of a powerful but benevolent man willing to help another get ahead, not really expecting anything in return. And, indeed, there were many such people. One reason for the success of the Kapoor family generation after generation (so dustedoff told me) was the older members helping the younger members get ahead in the industry. But there was another and much more common kind of godfather, one that made a cruel joke of the original meaning of the word. This one might more accurately be termed a ‘sugar-daddy’. Young women, aspiring actresses and dancers, usually needed help to get ahead in the business. Some few were able to make it on their own by virtue of their talent, determination, and hard work. Mumtaz comes to mind as one such successful actress. But the industry was full of young women trying to make a name for themselves. That big break – that better speaking role, that solo dance, that part in an ‘A’ movie – didn’t come easily. There were powerful men – the producers, the directors, the choreographers, or wealthy men with connections in the industry – who could provide that break in return for the favors which only a woman could provide.
Let’s return now to our young heroine, Edwina. In the very first article she wrote:
Your Merits would only be a Stepping Stone & the Rest You paid by Kind !!!
You might have had promise as an actress; you might have been able to dance. And so could many, many, other aspiring young women. Poverty, desperation, and ambition, could drive women to do things they might not ordinarily have done. Edwina wanted no part of any of that. About the only temptation to which she succumbed was cigarettes, a habit she picked up then and still has. She should probably consider herself lucky, given what might have happened to her.
You also asked Me for an Example How about ‘Our Helen’? She took over from Cuckoo but really who gave Her that First Break was a Producer called Aurora & She had to Live with Him He called the Shots & took all Her Money Eventually when She reached Her Target in Fame She decided to leave Him He Threatened to take Any & Everything including the Clothes Off Her Body & send Her Out in the Rags that She started off with when She joined the Line She eventually landed up taking Him to Court & Won the Case
Not Long after He died a Pauper Many Others Similar to Helen Married Their Producers or Directors to keep Their Names & Self Respect Many Dance Directors were no Exception to the Rule either & Many of the Female Dance Assistants who were Much better Paid than Dancers became The Dance Director’s Lovers Our Saroj Khan was once Married to Sohanlal who really made Saroj a Professional in Her Dancing which Made Her the No.1 ‘Top Most’ for Many Many Years to Come I remember how little She was when in the Group with Me!
Dance Directors usually Encouraged the Girls & Boys whom They thought had a Flair for being Good Dancers & Stood Out from the Group They Truly Appreciated Them & Showed Them Off in a Dance Sequence Frequently One of Them was Robert Master & Raj Master & I can Honestly say that Robert Master was ‘The Exception to the Rule’ who died a Pauper through No Fault of His One in a Million!!!”
In addition to having the problem of being Anglo-Indian, and being in the movies, thus being liable for unwanted insults or advances, she got no support at all from her family. Her family belittled her efforts to get ahead (partly jealousy at her success), and her brother was so overly protective she couldn’t make any friends or have any fun at all. This was partly big brother looking after little sister, but also partly a power trip that big brothers can sometimes go on (speaking as a big brother here). This hurt her own self-esteem, made things much more difficult for her than they already were, and scarred her psyche for many years to come.
She mentioned to me, after I asked her about it on the phone, that every young dancer or actress or starlet needed to get a break to move up to becoming a more important or better known dancer or actress. With these ‘favors’ came favors in return. And that meant sleeping with or becoming the mistress of that person. Quid pro quo. She said most well known actresses and dancers went through this and agreed, either out of desperation or ambition. I asked her about the well known director Shakti Samantha, the fellow that offered to help her get ahead with the Urdu and Hindi lessons, and she spat out that he was no exception to the rule.
In another example of her own run-in with the system, after trying unsuccessfully for a period of time to flirt with her, the older and already married choreographer Satyanarayan tried to make his move one day.
Satyanarayan gave Me a lift Home from either Rehearsal or Shooting on the Day because He said that He had to go My Way but when We reached My Destiny (My Home a Road off the Main Road called Sankli Street Byculla) He would not stop when I asked Him to & carried on to Drive forward ignoring Me Then I held the Door Handle to the Car & Threatened to Jump Out & that is when He stopped The Road was quite Narrow & I was well known there anyway because We Lyons lived there The Locals would have had Him if I did jump out I tell You!!! It was a Muslim Area & they took care of their Womenfolk in Sankli Street Byculla Bombay I felt safer there than anywhere else!
For those actresses who became successful for awhile, often the future after films was anything but rosy. Some very few were able to balance marriage and children with a film career, but they were in the minority. For those that chose a film career over marriage and family, they often lived their later lives alone with no family to love or to be loved in return. Whether they were reasonably well off when they passed, such as Suraiya, or they died forgotten and in poverty, sometimes even after having been in loveless and childless marriages, as in so many cases such as that of the great Nalini Jayant, one wonders if these actresses, if they had it to do over again, would have made the choices they did. Like the woman she admires so much, the great Mumtaz, Edwina left the film world at her peak in order to go with her husband and to raise her family, a family that adores her to this day.
I was never cut out to be A Star in the Film Industry & I chose not to as well but I am a Star in My Own Rights & count My Blessings everyday for My Life & the Path that I took A Lovely Family that is Priceless!!! Some would give their Right Arm to have what I have achieved over the Years!
Nostalgia I feel all the Time or rather each Time I view any Dance Clip with My Old Friends & I in Them as I Miss All My Dear Friends who were a Big Part of My Younger Life & whom I did take for Granted Half of them are Dead & the other Half I have lost Contact with All I have left are Fond Memories which No One Can Take Away from Me especially when I take My Trip Down Memory Lane with A Big Smile eh!!!? I just Loved My Friends more than Myself ! Now I feel Myself Declining & not before long will reach the ‘Big 70’ & Wonder where all those Years have Gone & in such a Big Hurry Too? Still – I have been one of the Lucky Ones I know & who needs a Drink to get Drunk? Certainly not I !!!
And now we near the end of Edwina’s story until today. But her story isn’t complete, not by a long shot. It’s a work in progress with much more to come. In addition, some of her story, particularly from her days in the movies, can’t be told at this time for one reason or another. In the future, when the time is right to fill in more of the details, some of them absolutely spectacular, we’ll return here to share some more. I’ve created a playlist on YouTube of all the songs and dances we know that feature Edwina. At the moment there are 83 of them. Most are from my own channel but a few are from others’ channels. If you, the readers, discover more, please let us know.
If you’re not familiar with how playlists work, after one song completes, the next song in the list begins to play automatically. The first six in the list are her very favorites, ones that feature not only Edwina, but also her best friends from days gone by.
Edwina and I would like to thank the people responsible for making this series of articles possible. First is memsaab, whose articles in her memsaabstory blog earlier on Edwina’s older brother Terence and then on Edwina herself, first introduced all of us to the fascinating Lyons family. She also personally introduced this writer to Edwina herself. Second is dustedoff, who allowed us to publish this more detailed Edwina story in her blog, and for that we’re very grateful. We’d also like to thank you, the readers, for sticking with us for this series of four articles, and we hope you’ve found the time it took to read the words, look at the pictures, and watch the videos, time well spent. This writer would like to sincerely thank Edwina for her generosity with her time and with her memories, and for her patience with my never ending and sometimes silly questions, without which none of this would ever have been possible.
This is to Conclude with Great Love & to say ‘Thank You’ to all Those Lovely People who Contributed with Those Beautiful Reassuring Words of Praise in the Post Done Especially for Me by Our One & Only Precious ‘Memsaab’ in ‘Feel The Love’ Edwina To Me She will always be ‘My Darling Greta’ whom I have grown to Love as a Daughter & a Friend in My Heart!
If it had not been for Her to make that First Move none of this would have come about & I would never have met another ‘Big Star’ whom with all His Great Charm & Perseverance (though always hiding behind the Scenes) helped Me to Open Up & talk about My Life in the Film Industry & in General very Gradually since March 2011 to date He is My One & Only ‘Tom Daniel’ My Hero Indeed! Even this is going to Embarrass Him & He might attempt to Edit it but this is ‘My Story’ & He should give Me this Pleasure of making it all Worthwhile
He has really worked Very Very Hard to make a Success of these Articles & the Credit should really go to Him as well ! We did this Jointly & I want to say ‘Thank You’ Dear
We’ll close with more pictures from Edwina’s collection taken during various stages of her life.
Sixteen year old Edwina with older brother Terence filming one of her first movies, 1958’s Police starring Madhubala and Pradeep Kumar.
A home picture taken at about the same period as the one above.
Edwina and brother-in-law Shinde posing at the studio during the filming of 1962’s Half Ticket starring Kishore Kumar and Madhubala.
They’re both in the very funny Woh Ek Nigaah with Kishore and Helen. At 2:15, watch Edwina bump into Tony who in turn bangs into Kishore, almost bringing the whole song to a crashing halt. Also present are sister Marie, Pamela, Abe and Bhagwan. But the video quality is so poor it’s difficult to pick people out.
A picture taken at a film studio in 1963, most probably. Unfortunately, although we’ve seen the same beautiful dress in a different video from 1966, we can’t identify any movie (yet) where she might appear in both the dress and that astonishing hair style. Too bad it’s partly obscured by the scarf.
1980 in Brisbane, Australia. Edwina and older brother Terence dancing like it was twenty years earlier.
1985, oldest son Nigel, Tracy, and son James, Edwina’s first grandchild.
1989 and the Three Amigos ride again. Left to right, Teresa, Edwina, and Pamela.
About 1990 and three of Edwina’s four children. From left to right, Andy, Michelle, and Eddy. Am I the only one that thinks Michelle is the spitting image of her mother?
Edwina and Pamela in 2001
2008, Edwina on the left with her sister and former group dancer comrade, Marie.
Mid 2011. Back, left to right, youngest son Andy, Edwina, husband Keith. Front, Steven, husband of sister Irene’s daughter and Edwina’s niece Glynnis. Glynnis was also the little flower girl pictured in Edwina’s wedding photo from the first article.
2011, Oldest son Nigel (left) and youngest son Andy.
2011, daughter Michelle
Text and images © Edwina Violette and Thomas Daniel