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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The LO Goes to Assam, Part 2: Kaziranga

To read the first part of this travelogue (Guwahati), click here.

Having spent the few hours we got in Guwahati sightseeing and eating out, we got up the next morning and set off for Kaziranga. Kaziranga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about 195 km from Guwahati, a distance that can be accomplished in about 5 hours (or less). The road is pretty good, a well-tarred, well-maintained, broad highway that goes mostly through the plains. Getting out of Guwahati itself took us close to an hour, and the LO kept remarking throughout: “It looks just like Ring Road!” (Delhi’s Ring Road, or at least those stretches of it we traverse frequently, often has construction work going on: flyovers being made, half the road cordoned off, traffic jams aplenty and the roadside trees choked with dust).

Interestingly, the outskirts of Guwahati abut onto Meghalaya; for about 15 minutes or so, the Innova that had come to take us to Kaziranga travelled through Meghalaya before re-entering Assam.

We traversed other interesting, and often very scenic, stretches of road once we were past the urban sprawl of Guwahati. The Assam countryside is very pretty: the villages nestle among coconut and betel nut palms, banana plants, and fields of paddy, or—even more striking right now, when it bursts into sunny yellow bloom—mustard. We passed many village ponds covered with deep pink waterlilies, and there were fishing nets anchored here and there, waiting for the catch.

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The LO Goes to Agra, Part – II

(For part I of this travelogue, click here).

The next morning, we’d planned to go as early as possible to the Taj. This, given that the LO eats in a very leisurely style, meant that we eventually ended up leaving the hotel by around 8.30. It was a little cloudy at the time, but nothing, we thought, that might be a problem.

You can use fossil fuel transport till only outside a kilometre of the Taj; so our Ola taxi dropped us off, and we set off on foot, pursued hotly all the way by guides offering their services. We managed to fob them all off (we’ve been here several times before, and given that I did a lot of research on the Taj and Agra in general for my book Engraved in Stone, I do know a fair bit), and bought our tickets (Rs 200 per adult Indian if you want to go inside the mausoleum; Rs 50 if you’re content to see everything else but not enter the mausoleum).

Security, of course, is quite stringent, and this was where we ran up against an obstacle.

For the Agra trip, the LO had brought along a prized possession, a plastic tiara. This she insisted on wearing, in the fond belief that Mumtaz Mahal deserved a visit from someone dolled up like a maharani (never mind that the tiara didn’t quite match with the jeans, T-shirt, and Crocs the LO was clad in).

The tiara.
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The LO Goes to Agra, Part – I

Some of you who’ve been following this blog over the past few years might know about the LO. The ‘Little One’, my now-nearly-nine year old daughter, has figured prominently in my travelogues over the past several years. She is an enthusiastic traveller, and few things bring her greater joy than to go to new places, stay at nice hotels (yes, a vital part of travel for the LO) and generally let her hair down.

Agra is a place we’ve been meaning to go for a while now. Of course the Taj Mahal is iconic, but there are several other wonderful old monuments in the city that my husband and I wanted to see again, and the LO, from seeing photos of the Taj in school textbooks and elsewhere, was eager as well. What’s more, the LO’s best friend has her nanihaal —her maternal grandparents’ home—in Agra. Every few months, the kid goes off to Agra, and of course tells the LO all about it.

The Taj Mahal on a rainy day
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The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part II: Corbett

(See Part I of this post, here).

After a relaxing couple of days in Nainital, we drove down to Corbett. The Jim Corbett National Park, originally named Hailey National Park (after William Malcolm Hailey, Governor of the United Provinces at the time) was established in 1936 as the first national park in India. In 1956, it was renamed to honour Jim Corbett, the naturalist-hunter so renowned for both preserving wildlife in the Terai as well as helping the local people by killing many man-eaters in the region.

All of this we told the LO about as we journeyed down the Nainital-Kaladhungi stretch towards Corbett. This road is a very scenic one, with miles of forest all along the way. Mist cloaked the pine woods, and when we rolled down the car windows, the fragrance of the pines wafted in.

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The LO Goes to Nainital and Corbett, Part I: Nainital

It’s been a long, long time since our last trip. For a family that enjoys travelling as much as we do, the past two years have been an especially tiring period. The LO (the ‘Little One’, our now eight-year old) has even forgotten much of her last journey, to Kenya, back in January 2020.

I know many people who haven’t let the pandemic interfere with their travel plans too much, especially not over the past twelve months or so. We, however, have been exercising a good deal of caution – with the result that we’ve ended up feeling really restless.

Finally, I decided we had to go. Somewhere, anywhere. Somewhere we wouldn’t need to worry about housework, somewhere cool, an escape from the heat of the NCR summer.

Nainital, not too far from Noida, was what we settled on: it’s not so very far (only about 8 hours’ drive, stops included), it’s cool, and the LO has never been here. We decided to combine that with a trip to Corbett National Park: the LO, who has aspirations of being a naturalist (a ‘wildlifer’, as she termed it till a while back) would perhaps enjoy that.

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New Book! Lockdown Lunches: The World On a Plate

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for some years may know that I am passionately fond of food. For a while, I reviewed restaurants here, along with all the films I review. One year, I did an entire ‘food film’ project, where I watched many, many food films from across the world and cooked up dishes to accompany them. I devoted the month of October 2018 to food in films.

Yes, I find food just about as interesting as cinema. More, at times.

So this was bound to happen: a book on food. My first non-fiction book, part memoir, part an exploration of food history from around the world, part cookbook.

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Miss India (1957)

Before I watched this film, the only other Nargis-Pradeep Kumar films I’d seen were Adalat and Raat aur Din. Both had them playing a married couple, both films had superb music. But they couldn’t have been more unlike each other. Adalat was tiresome, regressive, and depressing; Raat aur Din was intriguing and fast-paced, and overall a good mystery.

One good film, one a dud. Dared I hope that Miss India might be better than Adalat? This was a film I really knew nothing of, except that its music was by SD Burman.

There was only one way to find out: by watching it.

Miss India begins at a graduation ceremony in a Delhi college where the chief guest praises the ‘Miss Indias’, as he dubs them: the educated, self-reliant young women of India, the women who will make good wives for their husbands and good homes for their families. [I roll my eyes and mentally start pushing this into the Adalat slot. Same vibes]. Among the women graduating is the highly accomplished Rama (Nargis), who has graduated in law. [Ah. There has to be a reason for this. There is hope yet].

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Just what did you have in mind…?

Back in 2014, just for kicks (and to share some fun with blog readers), I published this post. It’s a collection of a few choice behind-the-scenes statistics from my blog. What search terms bring blog readers to Dustedoff. Many had enjoyed this first edition, and just the other day, blog reader kayyessee reminded me of it. It was time for some more humour of that sort, kayyessee said; time for a second edition.

I agreed, completely. The world is so bleak these days, I could certainly do with some hilarity. So here goes. These are actually several years old, search terms which ended up bringing people to my blog.

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Barnali (1963)

When I read the news of Soumitra Chatterjee’s passing away, my first thought was: I need to write a tribute, talk about how much I liked this actor. Then, reality crept in. It’s not as if I’ve seen too many films that starred Soumitra Chatterjee. Charulata, Kapurush, Jhinder Bondi, Aranyer Din Raatri, Sonar Kella, one of the three episodes of Teen Kanya… and that was it. I didn’t recall having seen any of his other films.

Which might sound odd; how could one like an actor so much based on only such a handful of films? But I suppose when you’re looking at quality rather than quantity, it can work. And Soumitra Chatterjee, even in the few films of his that I’ve seen, proved himself a memorable actor. Not just handsome, not just superficially charismatic, but also so very talented. His ‘coward’ of Kapurush is so very real, so flawed and believable a protagonist; his Mayurvahan in Jhinder Bondi is a deliciously evil portrayal of the flamboyant, boyishly attractive yet very wicked Rupert of Hentzau. It’s easy to see why a bored and neglected housewife would fall in love with this young man in Charulata, and he is Feluda. Sharp, intelligent, well-read (and intelligent and well-read are apt descriptions of the man in real life too, from what I gather).

But a full-fledged tribute, a run-down of all his best films: no, that was not something I thought I would be capable of. Instead, I decided to commemorate the life and career of Soumitra Chatterjee by watching one film I’d only heard of in passing, never really got down to seeing.

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