RIP, Sheila Vaz.
This post is a little late in coming—Sheila Vaz passed away on June 29—but by the time I learnt of her passing, I was just about to post the first of my Nainital-Corbett travelogues, and knew that it would anyway take me at least a couple of days to compile a suitable tribute to one of Hindi cinema’s best dancers. So I decided to go ahead with that, and come back to this.
Sheila Vaz, without my knowing it, was probably one of the very first Hindi film dancers I ever saw onscreen: the first Hindi film I remember watching was CID, which I was taken to see when I was about nine. And there, lip-syncing to Leke pehla-pehla pyaar was this unabashedly effervescent woman, her eyes sparkling and her movements graceful. I won’t say that image stayed with me; I have no recollection of the song from back then. But Sheila Vaz became, years later when I grew much more devoted to Hindi cinema, one of my favourites. Besides the fact that she was so graceful and so emotive, I loved one thing that struck a chord with me: she was, like me, somewhat plus size. I’ve always been overweight, and have faced a lot of derision, hurtful ‘ribbing’ and more, for it: and here was Sheila Vaz, by no means a size zero, but undeniably beautiful and successful—I loved her the more for that.
Anyway, on to a Sheila Vaz list. My ten favourite Sheila Vaz songs (in which she’s lip-synced to the song), from Hindi films that I’ve seen. These, as always, are in no particular order (bar one).
1. O pardesi chhora chhaila gora-gora (Savera, 1958): This song tops my list of Sheila Vaz numbers. Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar played the leads in Savera, but this item number—with Sheila, Herman Benjamin, and a bunch of fellow dancers aboard a little flotilla—puts those two acting heavyweights in the shade, I think. The music is deliciously peppy (I can never watch it or even listen to it without wanting to get up and start dancing), the picturization is very pleasant—and Sheila is wonderful.
2. Leke pehla-pehla pyaar (CID, 1956): This song, my first encounter with Sheila Vaz (even if forgotten soon after) would need to be near the top of this list. Because, all said and done, it is quite an iconic Sheila Vaz song. Shyam Kapoor, the assistant director of CID, who played the harmonium and sang along with Sheila Vaz in Leke pehla-pehla pyaar strikes me as somewhat of a prop in this song: it’s hers, through and through. I love the teasing way she twirls about a miffed Shakila or openly flirts with an amused Dev Anand. One of those great songs of a third person commenting on a blossoming romance.
3. Gajab hua Ram zulam hua Ram (Agra Road, 1957): Agra Road was one of those films that had a good cast and great music, but was let down by shoddy scripting, poor direction and what seemed to be a general lack of resources (for more details, click here, to read my review of the film). Among its good songs, though, was this one, where Sheila Vaz is the dancer performing at a shady pub: the sort of sequence which Helen was generally associated with. Sheila pulls it off with panache, her dancing great and her smile utterly beguiling. Bhagwaan, dancing and romancing this belle, lends the comic touch to the proceedings.
4. Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya (Shree 420, 1955): Another of those famous songs that feature Sheila Vaz, Ramaiyya vasta vaiyya had Lata Mangeshkar singing playback for Sheila Vaz as well as for Nargis. The sentiment, while similar (“you are faithless, I have destroyed myself by falling in love with you”) comes across very differently for the two women. Nargis is plaintive, sorrowful; Sheila Vaz is bolder, stronger, less carried away by emotion. She dances on, she sings on, she lives on. This is a woman, who even though she is hurt, does not let the emotion ruin her (or, more prosaically, this is just a song-and-dance for these pavement-dwellers; no more).
One of the most admirable aspects of this song, for me, is Sheila’s immense energy. She is constantly moving, fast, and without a misstep. Superb.
5. Tu jiye hazaaron saal gori (Ek Saal, 1957): 1957 was a good year for Sheila Vaz (several of the songs in this list are from films released in that year); she danced her way through several songs that became famous (one, which I didn’t include in this list because she didn’t get to ‘sing’ in it was Chhupnewaale saamne aa, in which she danced with a charming Shammi Kapoor in his first hit film, Tumsa Nahin Dekha).
In 1957, too, she appeared in this dance, an often-forgotten song from a score that is mostly dominated by Sab kuchh lutaake hosh mein aaye. Here, Sheila Vaz plays the dancer congratulating the heroine on her birthday and showering blessings and good wishes on her, with nobody (except the heroine’s father, on a phone call) aware that the birthday girl has just been diagnosed with a condition that leaves her with only a year to live.
6. Dam hai baaki toh gham nahin (House No 44, 1955): It’s when I see songs like this—a dancer in a nightclub (or similar establishment), the sort of song that Helen made so much her own—that I wonder why Sheila Vaz had relatively few songs of this type filmed on her. It’s not as if she isn’t pretty (she is, very much). It’s not as if she can’t dance (she can, and how). But there’s a wholesomeness to her smile, a lack of sultriness (at least to my mind) that gives her less of the femme fatale look, and more of a girl-next-door feel. Right near the end of this elegant, seductive song, Sheila Vaz’s character does something completely at odds with that ‘good girl’ look of hers, but still.
7. Jawaani jala bedardi (24 Ghante, 1958): Sheila Vaz didn’t have a very long career: one of her first appearances was in Kidar Sharma’s Shokhiyaan (1951), and in 1961, just a decade later, she had retired. Even in those ten years, she ended up acting in a lot of forgettable B-grade films. 24 Ghante, a suspense thriller starring Premnath and Shakila, though it had some good music (Humein haal-e-dil is a favourite of mine), was otherwise a bit of a dud. But it did feature this dance with Sheila Vaz dressed up as a man. I love the effervescence of her bhangra-type dancing, and the occasional swagger—though never compromising on the grace—as her character banters with ‘his girl’. And Sheila looks cute in the kurta-lungi-jacket combination!
8. Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra (Chhote Nawab, 1961): This one is another of my particular favourites, especially since it showcases the versatility of Sheila Vaz. While most of the other dances she appears in are either folk or the sort of sultry number so popular for club dances, Sheila Vaz could do much more. Here, as a tawaif dancing in a kotha, she combines something of kathak with other, rather more ‘Bollywood’ dancing, and manages to be very graceful and poised. I haven’t seen her in too many other dances with a classical bent to them, but seeing this one (a fabulous song, too), I wish there were more such.
9. Chali jawaani thokar khaane (Abhimaan, 1957): The Mehmood-Ameeta pairing of Chhote Nawab had also been together in a film released four years earlier, the relatively little-known Abhimaan (which is nothing like the more famous 1970s Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bhaduri starrer). Ameeta’s character, a BA Pass girl who thinks housework and pati seva is beneath her dignity, walks out of her marital home after an almighty tiff with her husband. On the way, she sees this street performance: a man and a woman singing a song that echoes, somewhat, her plight. Sheila Vaz, as the dancer, shows off her skill (she was trained in folk dance, after all) and is also quite lovely.
10. Thandi-thandi hawa poochhe unka pata (Johny Walker, 1957): And, to end this list, a song from a film in which Sheila Vaz had a fairly substantial role. Playing the colleague, hostel roommate and best buddy of Shyama’s character, Sheila Vaz shone as the delightfully loyal, outspoken Glory: she stood up for her friend, she was confidant and fellow conspirator in time of need, and – best of all – she gave good, level-headed advice when the heroine looked in danger of slipping into regressiveness. Glory was a darling, and Sheila Vaz played her wonderfully.
So here she is. With Shyama, the two young women dancing in a garden, Sheila’s Glory gently teasing Shyama about the man she’s smitten with. I love this song: the music (OP Nayyar), the lyrics (Hasrat Jaipuri) and the rendition (Geeta Dutt and Asha Bhonsle) are perfect, and there’s something very charming about the picturization.
Which of Sheila Vaz’s songs would you like to add to this list?
As usual, a wonderful compilation! I never knew Sheila Vaz had passed away this year. Come to think of it, there’s not much known about her life, particularly after she quit films.
Yes, not very much seems to be known about her – definitely not one of those people who stayed very visible after leaving cinema.
Thank you for the appreciation, Abhik. Glad you enjoyed this.
In songs from the 50s, the only dancer that I always recognized was Helen – and till date, she remains a favorite. After reading through the list of songs above, I realize that I could have recognized was Sheila Vaz, but somehow that had never happened. So many of these songs are ones that I know well – particularly the one from “ChhoTe Nawaab”. Thanks to your article, I think I will now recognize Sheila Vaz going forward.
I’m glad this helped :-) She did appear in some very good songs, and I especially like the one from Chhote Nawab – wonderful song.
Nice recall of the dancer Shiela Vaz Just to add she left film rightly in late 1960s or probably early 61 when she got married to Ramesh Lakhanpal She had a new name now Mrs Rama Lakhanpal Her husband later in the 70s directed Dharmendra starrer Pocket Maar and a few more
I had no idea Ramesh Lakhanpal directed Pocketmaar. Thank you for that information – very interesting bit of trivia.
Thank you for the song list. R I P Sheila Vaz.
O Pardesi chhora is so wonderful! I love it.
Ley me add a few of my favourites,
Akeli mohe chhod na
Nikla hai gora gora chand
Kabhi aaj kabhi kal from Chand. The only duet by Lata Mangeshkar and Suman Kalyanpur.
A well deserved tribute.
Very nice songs! Thank you so much for these, Anupji. Kabhi aaj kabhi kal is, I think, a somewhat unusual dance for Sheila Vaz.
She was great, so expressive and emotional.
Very! I feel a bit sad that she quit so early. I wish she’d done a lot more films, she was always a pleasure to watch.
Oh wow, what a wonderful tribute. Didn’t know she had passed away. While I liked her, didn’t know much about her. Thank you for this :-)
You’re welcome, Harini. :-) Thank you for reading!
Your post has only made me aware of the sad demise of Sheila Vaz. It’s indeed a very sad news whose sadder aspect is that it’s been ignored by the media. People watching and admiring Leke Pehla Pehla Pyar may not even be aware of her name but her performance has made the song an immortal one. Kudos to you for this invaluable tribute to the great artist.
Very true, Leke pehla pehla pyaar made her immortal, even for people who might not have been able to otherwise put a name to her face.
Thank you for the appreciation, I’m glad you enjoyed this list.
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Lovely tribute, Madhu. My Mom told me about her passing and we reminisced about all the songs of her that we liked. Almost all the songs on your list found a mention, as well as the other Asha-Geeta duet from Johny Walker – jhuki jhuki pyar ki nazar. Sheila and Shyama make such a vivacious pair!
I also really like “jab hum tum dono raazi” from Bade Sarkar.
I’m so glad you added Jhuki-jhuki pyaar ki nazar, Shalini! I had been toying with including this one in the list – I love all the games-room type of activities going on in the background, I think there’s something very everyday about it. Since I always include only one song from a film, I did end up choosing Thandi-thandi hawa, but I am happy that you posted it here!
Jab hum-tum donon raazi was new to me, thank you for this! Lovely song, lovely Sheila Vaz (if only that hadn’t been Kishore Sahu..). :-)
Excellent tribute! I was hoping that you would write about her when I read that she had passed away.
Here’s a very young Sheila Vaz in Maa(1952). Is Duniya Mein…
I hadn’t heard Bade chaar sau bees hain before. Nice! Thank you for this one.
Madhuji, I was very happy to find ghar aaja ghir aaye in your list. This is one of my all time favourites. I am adding a song from Solva Saal, where Sheila Vaz features – Dekho Ji Mera Haal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr99_jTW_l4
Thank you, Anitaji, for this song! It was on my shortlist, so I’m especially happy to see it her.
An excellent tribute!!
I had read about the demise of Sheila Vaz and was expecting a post on one of the blogs. Good to see it here.
The CID song was the first one which made me notice her, followed by Chhupnewale saamne aa.
Sheila Vaz had her own charm with her twinkling eyes and a cheerful smile. She left her impact in each of her songs, holding her own even in dance numbers which she was paired with another dancer.
Its a pity she did few songs and left films early.
I had recently watched this Sheikh Mukhtar film Ramu Dada. Here’s a Sheila song where she is a dressed as a Japanese doll.
And one dance duet from Parvarish – jane kaisa jaadu kiya re
The Ramu Dada song is a gem! Thank you so much – I think I have seen Suna hai jabse mausam before, but I can’t be sure. Very nice, and Sheila Vaz looks adorable as a Japanese miss. :-)
Posted on behalf of Thomas Daniel, whom WordPress inexplicably objected to, which was why he was forced to write to me separately:
She was in Shokhiyan? I went and looked. Yes! Part of the chorus. Here’s a nice closeup (at about 56 seconds into the clip):
and an extended look (at about 3:16):
As I like her a lot also, I had already created an extensive playlist of her dances, the ones in my channel anyway:
In Johnny Walker she’s Shyama’s best friend and has quite a lot of dialog, as well as her three dances.
Thank you for the fine write up and for some dances new to me. Sheila Vaz is one of the immortals, a fine dancer and always cheerful.
Thank you, Tom! Yes, indeed – as I’ve mentioned, she did have a fairly substantial role in Johnny Walker – I think that’s the biggest role I’ve seen her in. She was so much fun as Glory.
I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and thank you for linking to your Sheila Vaz playlist!
Thank you for finally me being able to put a name to the lovely face. You’re right about her smile, her dance (what energy and what grace), her ‘wholesomeness’! So happy that you highlighted a not-so-well-known actor in the form of this tribute. BTW, doesn’t the first 2 lines of O pardesi chhora sound like “He’s a jolly good fellow”?
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*Slapping myself on the forehead*. Imagine, I have heard O pardesi chhora umpteen times, and never noticed that similarity! And it’s quite apparent, really. Wow!
I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Rajani. Thank you.
Who else had a smile like hers? The portion in “Ghar Aaja Ghir Aaye Badra” in which she is turning from side to side is entrancing: straight-faced on one side of the ghoonghat, that massive brilliant smile shining on the other. You make an excellent point as well of her being fuller-figured than the average dancer. Beauty comes in so many different forms–I wish more filmmakers acknowledged that. Glad that you were able to see a mirror of your own body in hers.
I recall having read somewhere that Sheila Vaz was not a native speaker of Hindi and, in her early film performances, had to have the lyrics written out in Latin letters and the meaning explained to her. Perhaps the challenge dancing “in a second language” caused her to put extra consideration into her expressions. They always seem perfectly apt.
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Thank you for noticing that bit about me identifying with her because of body size! That was important to me, but nobody else seemed to notice it. :-) And yes, I agree completely about beauty coming in different sizes – one of the loveliest women I ever knew was much bigger than everybody around her.
I read that, too, about Sheila Vaz having to be given her lines written in Roman Urdu. I do wonder, though, if there weren’t others as well who might have had to take recourse to something like that to learn their lines – perhaps the actors and actresses from the South, or from Bengal, who might have been more comfortable reading English characters rather than Devnagari or Urdu.