Book Review: Jerry Pinto’s ‘Helen: The Making of a Bollywood H-Bomb’

This is a reblog of an old post, in which I had reviewed an earlier edition of this book.

(The other day, I happened to meet Jerry Pinto—he was in Delhi for an event—and I couldn’t stop myself from telling him how much I enjoyed his Helen book. The next day, I discovered that Jerry’s Helen book has just been released in a new edition, with a lovely new cover, this time by Speaking Tiger Books. This book, which I read only about three years ago, is one of my favourite books on Hindi cinema: it combines intelligent analysis with humour, a genuine affection for the Hindi films of yore, and of course, Jerry Pinto’s very readable writing style).

Here, then, is my review of Helen: The Life and Times of a Bollywood H-Bomb. Or Helen: The Making of a Bollywood H-Bomb.


I won’t go so far as to say that Helen was the first Hindi film actress I remember seeing (that would be Shakila, since CID was the first Hindi film I remember watching). But I distinctly remember being about 10 years old, watching Chitrahaar, and being very excited because an old favourite of mine, a song I had till then only heard and never seen, was going to come on (in Chitrahaar, there would always be a sort of intertitle between songs, a single frame in which the name of the next song, the film it was from, and the names of the music director, the lyricist, and the singer(s) would be listed).

This song was Mera naam Chin Chin Choo, and my feet were already tapping when it began. All that frenetic movement, those men in sailor suits dancing about. The energy, so electric that it…

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13 thoughts on “Book Review: Jerry Pinto’s ‘Helen: The Making of a Bollywood H-Bomb’

  1. Groan! I saw this post on my blog roll and thought to myself, I’ve had this book for years and I still haven’t read it! (That’s strange, considering I love all things Helen!) And then I revisit your earlier review of it and see that I made the same comment there as well! *head to desk* I really should dig it out and read it. Thanks for reminding me of this book – again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just like Anu Warrier, I have had this book on my shelf for several years – and despite the fact that it came high recommended by a friend and then again by you, it is still languishing. Your re-post has spurred me to just sit down and read. Helen is a favorite of mine – she was such an AMAZING dancer and despite being put in terrible outfits, and always being the vamp, she did not come across as cheap on screen. I don’t know how she did it, but in my eyes, she just did. Even my mom who could be quite traditional and judgy was very fond of Helen.
    I recently saw a dance-off between Helen and Vyjayanthimala in Dr Vidya I think, and I think Helen simply stole the scene – she was so graceful and effortless. The choreography was meh but she rose above it.

    Thanks for reminding me about this book again Madhu. Hope to read it soon and perhaps post a comment here after that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even my mom who could be quite traditional and judgy was very fond of Helen.

      That, I think, is the greatest tribute there can be to the way Helen managed to convey a basic decency – despite the often dreadful costumes, as well as the sometimes raunchy lyrics (especially later in her career, when things became more permissive), Helen was never vulgar.

      Whenever you read the book, do tell me what you thought of it. Would love to know.


    • Today, I happened to chance upon this interview with Helen by Arbaaz Khan – I loved watching their conversation – what one sees is somebody that is so unassuming – particularly given her supreme talent. She mentions that she has been in over 1000 films – not a mean feat. Given this thread, I thought I would post the link here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Coincidentally, Anu e-mailed this to me just the other day. I am too busy these days to be able to find the time to watch anything, but I’ve bookmarked this to watch later sometime! Thank you for putting it here.


  3. This sounds like the best sort of public-figure biography–something that gives the reader insight into the broader culture that gave such and such a person an audience.

    I’m afraid to report that it has been a disappointing week for me on the Helen front. I watched “Khoon Khoon,” which has been recommended me to years, and was delighted to see her turn up as Jagdeep’s fiance. She’s a very good girl, not vampish at all, and safe from the usual narrative retributions–but she also had not a single song! Alas.


    • I don’t think I’ve seen Khoon Khoon. I have just finished watching Night in London, though, where she plays the rather more standard vamp, and has a song and dance to her name. I do wish she’d had the title song of the film picturised on her, though – Madhumati, instead, gets that one.

      Liked by 1 person

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